Provo • Trailing by one point late in the game, Zac Seljaas brought down the very much needed defensive rebound to give BYU possession. Coach Mark Pope called a timeout with 17.8 seconds left on the board.
His Cougars needed something big to put the game away. And TJ Haws was the one to step up, sinking a 3-pointer to get the lead.
Seljaas then sealed the deal, blocking Jordan Ford’s would-be game-tying shot to lead the Cougars to an 81-79 victory over Saint Mary’s in the Marriott Center.
What’s ironic is that Haws’ game-winning shot won’t even be the biggest moment of the senior’s weekend. As soon as Haws wrapped up with post-game interviews, he left for the hospital to check in with his wife Lauren.
The couple are expecting their first child.
“It's been a full day of emotion to say the least,” Haws said. “But I'm super excited. I'm happy that we came out with the win and now I'm going to have one of the coolest experiences of my life. I'm really excited.”
BYU wanted to change the script from what happened the last time it faced the Gaels, and got off to a 7-0 start in less than two minutes, forcing Saint Mary’s to call a timeout. However, Saint Mary’s responded with a 9-0 run once action resumed.
And then the battle really started.
The teams traded baskets with neither able to pull away from the other.
Midway through the first half, though, the Cougars were dealt a bad card. Grad transfer Jake Toolson suffered a gnarly ankle twist and fell to the floor, where he writhed in pain until he was helped off the court and into the locker room.
Toolson scored 24 points the first time the Cougars faced the Gaels this season — so it was a concerning loss for BYU. However, less than three minutes later, Toolson checked back in.
“It's hard when you've just been through so much as a team,” Haws said. “To see one of our brothers go down like that, it's hard to see, but we huddled together and we were like 'come on, we've got to continue to fight for each other. With or without Jake, we've got to fight.' It was so great to see him come back. To be honest with you, I wasn't surprised because that's the kind of dude Jake is – he's just tough as nails and brings it every single night.”
The return of Toolson helped pace the Cougars through the remainder of the first half, and BYU found itself up 43-40 at halftime.
Malik Fitts started pulling out all the stops after the break, scoring the Gaels’ first seven points of the second half. The Cougars struggled to guard Fitts, who ended the night with 29 points and eight rebounds.
But just as Saint Mary’s got up to a six-point lead on a 3-pointer from Fitts, Toolson blocked the Gaels’ next shot to break up the momentum.
Once BYU got within two points, Toolson pulled out another highlight-reel performance, swatting away yet another Saint Mary’s shot.
However, Saint Mary’s continued to slowly break away and eventually got its largest lead of the game, 67-59, with less than eight minutes remaining.
Part of what hurt the Cougars was the lack of free-throw opportunities. BYU wasn’t sent to the line until the final minutes of the second half, when Haws drew a foul from Fitts. And it was the end of the line for the Gaels’ leading scorer, who picked up his fifth and final foul of the night.
Haws ended the night with a team-high 23 points, along with the game-winning shot, on 9-of-15 shooting from the field.
Yoeli Childs didn’t like having to miss the first game of the series against SMC, so he made sure to make the most of Saturday’s rematch.
The senior forward was the first to score in the game and finished with 19 points even though he sat out a handful of minutes in the second half after getting in foul trouble.
“It’s just so fun when it’s a battle all night, you know, we had a lot of frustration,” Haws said. “They made tough shots all night and things went our way for a little bit and things went their way for a while and we were just tough all night and we just continued to battle. Those wins, when it’s a team win like that, they’re so much fun to be a part of.”