Las Vegas • There were jumpers and layups, and there were floaters and free throws, the supply of them endless until the final buzzer signaled the end. In a cramped Las Vegas gym, it was T.J. Haws doing something he so often has done — slicing through a defense.
When it was done, Haws had worn down Modesto Christian (Calif.). In yet another tight game for a team that in the recent past hasn’t often played in tight games, the BYU-bound senior brought home a 70-54 win on the first day of the Tarkanian Classic.
"He’s a guy who when things aren’t going great, he can make a play," Knights coach Quincy Lewis said.
The game was close until the final minutes. The Knights had trouble adjusting to the Crusaders’ athleticism and physicality. They trailed by one at the half.
But the Knights came out in the second half with renewed energy. They outmuscled the Crusaders, rebounding and pushing the ball up the court. And they got the ball in Haws’ hands, where often its next destination was the bottom of the net.
"We had to get rebounds and we had to play smart," said Haws, who finished with 31 points. "Those were our two adjustments at halftime, and I think we did it."
Haws demurred when asked about his role in the Knights controlling the second half. Standing in a soft rain outside the gym just minutes after the game, he pushed the conversation away from himself, to the rest of the team.
"Eventually we just wore them down by running the floor and things like that," he said. "We got the lead and kept pushing them."
The Knights did little celebrating after the game. They shuffled quickly out of the gym, into a cool Las Vegas evening and back to their hotel, where they’d begin preparation for the following day.
Because all the superlative performance from Haws and the win had earned them was a matchup with another talented team, another obstacle they’d have to climb.
Which of course was fine, because that, after all, was why they’d had come.
"I’ll tell you what. This is so good for us," Lewis said. "We are playing tough, big-league competition here. It’s coming down to those last three or four minutes, where you have to execute. That can do nothing but good for us."
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.