Logan • Utah State’s notoriously rabid and venomous student section came to the Spectrum on Saturday night loaded up with signs and chants wondering about the whereabouts of former BYU guard Nick Emery, who withdrew from school a day before the 2017-18 college basketball season.
They left knowing full well that BYU has seemingly found his replacement: Weber State transfer McKay Cannon.
The new BYU guard, who learned hours before the Utah Valley game on Wednesday that the NCAA had granted him eligibility, scored 17 points off the bench and helped carry the Cougars to a satisfying 75-66 win over Utah State in front of a sellout crowd of 10,206.
“Just a team win,” said BYU coach Dave Rose. “A really big team win.”
For the 4-5 Aggies, it was another discouraging loss to their in-state rivals, their sixth straight setback to BYU and second straight in Logan. And they knew the culprit long before meeting coach Tim Duryea in the locker room afterward: free-throw shooting.
Utah State, a 66 percent free-throw-shooting team, made just 10 of 23 freebies, including a 3 for 9 effort from star guard Koby McEwen. The Wasatch Academy product played for the first time since Nov. 15, and was 5 of 9 from 3-point range to finish with a game-high 20 but struggled at the stripe.
“Embarrassing,” Duryea said.
The Cougars were 24 of 28 from the free-throw line.
“Get the right guy fouled and get to the free-throw line,” Rose said of the visiting team’s strategy.
The game was evenly played in just about every other statistical measure; Both teams shot about 44 percent from the field, both teams corralled 35 rebounds, BYU had 13 turnovers and USU 15 and the lead changed hands seven times.
“That was a great atmosphere and great crowd,” Rose said. “A lot of guys have never been in that environment, at least up here. … I am really happy for the guys. This is something that we can really build on. This is as good of an environment as you are going to find anywhere and to be able to come out with a win is huge.”
Utah State raced out to a 15-7 lead and BYU looked rattled and jittery early. Sharpshooter Zac Seljaas airballed a 4-footer.
The Cougars missed 14 of their first 18 shots before Jahshire Hardnett made a driving layup and Rose’s team started taking the ball hard to the rim on virtually every possession.
Then Cannon entered the game as if he were shot out of one and played fearlessly, just as he did when he scored eight points in the 85-58 win over UVU.
“I have been here before,” Cannon said. “I have a lot of experience I can share with the guys. … There were times when I said we have to keep grinding and it will come to us.”
Elijah Bryant, who finished with 15 points, opened the second half with a 3-pointer after BYU went 0 for 10 from deep in the first half. The Cougars were 5 of 8 from beyond the arc in the second half. Cannon was 8 of 8 from the line and 4 of 5 from the field.
Bryant and Cannon said the USU fans were ruthless in their verbal taunts, but they got the last laugh — and Bryant wouldn’t sit down after fouling out late to the dismay of the students doing the “left-right” chant.
“Better not say it,” Cannon reported, after being asked to repeat some of language spewed at the Cougars’ bench.
For USU, Sam Merrill added 14 points and Alex Dargenton chipped in 10. But Julion Pearre battled foul trouble trying to put the clamps on TJ Haws (10 points) and did not score. Cannon committed just one turnover in 31 minutes.
“McKay fills the role for Nick Emery not being here,” Bryant said.
So now the Aggies know.