Provo • Former Utah Jazz coach Frank Layden, a former Niagara player and coach who has been inducted into that school’s Hall of Fame, was honored at halftime of Tuesday night’s BYU-Niagara game at the Marriott Center.
That was not only a classy gesture by BYU, but appropriate, because both teams played defense in the second half like it was an NBA game. The Cougars played a little more, however, and ran off with a 95-88 victory in front of 10,791 fans to get back in the win column after Saturday’s disappointing 89-75 loss to UT Arlington.
“It was a fast-paced game, but that is what was available,” said BYU coach Dave Rose, not all that disappointed in his team’s defense because at least it held the high-scoring Purple Eagles to 45 percent shooting. UT Arlington, which lost by a point, 77-76, at No. 25 Alabama on Tuesday night, blistered them with 54 percent shooting, including 12 of 20 from 3-point range.
This time, the Cougars were the hotter team, making 7 of 12 3-point attempts and shooting 54 percent. Trailing 34-31 at halftime, the Cougars outscored their guests 64-54 in the second half, partly because Niagara refused to concede, fouling time and again in the final seconds.
“The biggest thing on offense is we were more patient,” said BYU forward Yoeli Childs, who had 21 points and five rebounds.
It also helped that star guard Elijah Bryant turned in another brilliant performance, despite being hobbled by a sore right foot.
Jahshire Hardnett made his first career start in the place of BYU’s leading scorer, but Bryant entered the game with 11:41 remaining in the first half and played most of the rest of the way. He finished with a team-high 22 points, thanks to 3-of-4 shooting from beyond the arc and 13-of-14 shooting from the free-throw line.
“Eli played on a pretty sore foot, but ended up playing really well for us,” Rose said.
Niagara gave up 107 and 101 points in blowout losses at No. 14 Minnesota and UMass last week, but did win its opener at highly respected St. Bonaventure and was viewed as having a potent offense and a suspect defense. It didn’t disappoint.
Senior guard Matt Scott led the Eagles with 36 points on 13 of 24 shooting and second-leading scorer Kahlil Dukes chipped in 20.
“Defensively, it was a real struggle trying to keep those guys in front of us,” Rose said.
The Cougars countered by using their height advantage inside. Center Luke Worthington scored 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting and TJ Haws added 18 and made a 3-point play with 15:31 remaining to send the Cougars on a 20-7 run.
“The coaches came out and said directly that this would be an important game for us down low,” Worthington said.
BYU trailed 43-37 before Haws’ big play. Later, after Niagara battled back to cut BYU’s lead to 67-65, Bryant hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Childs back-to-back inside baskets to right the Cougars.
“We learned a lot about ourselves,” Rose said. “I liked the fact that we got the ball to our big guys. … And I think we were much better at taking care of the ball in the second half.”
After turning it over 10 times in the first 20 minutes, and trailing 34-31 at the break, the Cougars had just four turnovers in the second half.
The Cougars will leave for New York on Wednesday morning, and play Alabama on Friday at Long Island-University Brooklyn in the semifinals of the Barclays Center Classic. Saturday, they will actually play at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, against UMass.
BYU 95, Niagara 88
• Elijah Bryant comes off the bench to score 22 points and the Cougars improve to 3-1 with a win at the Marriott Center.
• The Cougars make 7 of 12 3-point attempts after going 6 of 27 from beyond the arc in the loss to UT Arlington.
• Matt Scott leads all scorers with 36 points for Niagara, alma mater offormer Utah Jazz coach Frank Layden, who was honored at halftime.