Provo • BYU has not seen a lot of zone defenses through the first quarter of the 2017-18 college basketball season.
They saw a lot of it in the first half against Illinois State on Wednesday night, and simply crushed it.
The Cougars blistered the nets early to build a 22-point lead at the break and withstood a 51-point second half from the visitors to beat the Redbirds 80-68 in front of 12,250 at the Marriott Center on Wednesday night.
“Every guy that’s a shooter, their eyes get kinda big when they see a zone,” BYU guard Elijah Bryant said.
It was a tale of two halves as far as shooting went. The Cougars were 6 of 15 from 3-point range in the first half while the Redbirds were 0 of 15 in the first 20 minutes, and BYU had a commanding 39-17 lead at the break.
Illinois State junked its zone in the second half, and started making every 3-pointer it took. The Cougars got impatient against man-to-man defense in the latter 20 minutes and were outscored 51-41 in the second half.
“They outplayed us in the second half,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “Hopefully we can get in here tomorrow and get that fixed. But I am happy for the guys, happy for our team. It was a good win in a tough challenge. That’s a good team.”
Bryant flirted with a triple-double, adding nine rebounds and nine assists, and TJ Haws broke out of a slump with a season-high 20 points. Big man Yoeli Childs got in early foul trouble and played 10 minutes in the first half, but still had 17 points and seven rebounds.
“On this team, when you have an open shot, you shoot it,” Haws said.
There were plenty of those in the first half, as Illinois State coach Dan Muller inexplicably stayed with the zone.
“It was a full half of zone, and I thought our guys, as the half went on, we got more comfortable in it and took good shots and we were able to make big shots,” Rose said.
The coach worried before the game about his team being mentally spent after two instate games last week, wins at Utah Valley and Utah State. That worry had merit in the second half when Illinois State’s Taylor Bruninga hit three straight 3-pointers off the bench and the Redbirds starting putting up a fight. Bruninga finished with 18, all in the second half, and Phil Fayne led Illinois State with 19.
“You knew you weren’t going to keep them to zero makes in the second half,” Rose said.
The Cougars (7-2), who won their fourth game in a row, led by as many as 28 points early in the second half before the Redbirds (4-5) got hot and were able to spread the floor and get some penetrating drives to the rim.
“I felt like in the first half, we really defended as a team,” said Haws, who was poked in the eye and had to leave briefly in the second half. “And in the second half we kinda went away from that, like Eli said. Give credit to Illinois State, they are a great shooting team. But we definitely could have done better in the second half.”
The Redbirds scored on 10 straight possessions to get within 14 with five minutes remaining, but Childs’ dunk and free throw calmed the uprising. The Cougars were out-rebounded 33-32 by one of the worst rebounding margin teams in Division I, but outscored ISU 46-34 in the paint.
The Cougars will meet Weber State, a loser at Utah Valley on Wednesday, on Saturday at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City in the second half of the Beehive Classic doubleheader.