Provo • Elijah Bryant saw to it that the BYU basketball team did not miss troubled projected starter Nick Emery in the season opener on Saturday night, scoring 27 points on 10-of-11 shooting in an easy 91-61 win over Mississippi Valley State.
But the Cougars’ captain and coach Dave Rose know that Emery will indeed be missed as the season progresses, perhaps as soon as next week when BYU travels to Princeton on Wednesday and then hosts the team that knocked them out of the NIT last spring, UT Arlington.
Emery announced Friday that he has withdrawn from school and won’t be playing for the Cougars in the 2017-18 season. He is the focus of a school investigation into whether he received improper benefits from a BYU booster. His eligibility was in question because BYU has turned its findings over to the NCAA and was waiting for a ruling before putting the junior back on the court in a game that counted.
“I am impressed with the way our guys handled these last few days,” Rose said after the Cougars easily put away the Delta Devils, who will play at Utah on Monday. “I thought that we had a really good game plan and our guys executed it well.”
Bryant, who set a BYU record for shooting percentage (.909) in a season opener, with a minimum of 10 attempts, said the players support Emery’s decision to leave the team. Emery said in a statement released Friday that he hopes to rejoin the program next year.
“I think the biggest thing for Nick now is to find himself,” Bryant said. “That is bigger than basketball, just to find himself, and we always have his back. But looking forward as a team, it is time to move on. Other guys have to step up.”
That was easy to do against the team ranked dead last (351st) in Division I basketball in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings as three other Cougars reached double figures, and BYU led by as many as 41 points before Rose began substituting freely with 10 minutes to play.
TJ Haws added 14 points, Yoeli Childs had 13 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots and Zac Seljaas chipped in 11 points as BYU improved to 12-1 in home openers in the Rose era. Point guard Jahshire Hardnett, who will probably see the most increased playing time in Emery’s absence, played turnover-free in 25 minutes.
“The biggest effect [without Emery] will be just our depth,” Rose said. “I think he has played a lot of minutes for us. He’s done a lot of good things over the two years that he has played. When you put your team together, you plan on those experienced guys to be a pillar for you. And when you take one away, you are going to have to make up for it. We are not going to just replace him.”
Rose reiterated that BYU has been dealing with Emery’s situation since last spring, and he acknowledged that coaches began preparing for this worst-case scenario months ago.
“I thought we did a good job of recruiting to this possibility, with Jahshire and [Kajon Brown],” Rose said of his junior college transfers. “So we will see. We will see how we progress.”
The Cougars were just 13 of 22 from the free-throw line, an Emery specialty late in tight games.
“Distractions come in all shapes and forms, all sizes,” Rose said. “And this is one that is extremely personal to our guys. They lost a good friend, not only a teammate. It is a close bunch of guys. … This is not how anyone wanted it to turn out. So we put it behind us and try to move forward.”
With a much more difficult road ahead.
• Elijah Bryant scores 27 points on 10 of 11 shooting as BYU wins its 12th-straight home opener.
• Yoeli Childs posts a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds and also blocks five shots.
• The Cougars go 12 of 26 from 3-point range, led by Bryant’s 6 of 7 effort.