It was somehow fitting that Saturday’s in-state clash between BYU and short-handed Weber State was played at an NBA arena in Salt Lake City as the second half of the inaugural Beehive Classic.
The Wildcats rose to the occasion without two injured starters, much like NBA teams tend to do when they are missing frontline stars, BYU coach Dave Rose said.
Weber State gave heavily favored BYU all it wanted before the Cougars got a big block from Yoeli Childs and clutch free throws from TJ Haws and Elijah Bryant to take a 74-68 win in front of an announced crowd of 7,729 at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
“I thought it was a great game, back and forth,” Rose said. “Both teams executed well. And maybe [there] was a little bit of frustration, because of an expectation that isn’t real. When guys are short-handed, you see it every night in the NBA. Short-handed teams beat really good teams.”
The Cougars improved to 8-2, while Weber State fell to 4-5 playing without two of its three best players, Zach Braxton and Brekkott Chapman, who were injured.
“We don’t have moral victories around here — we never do,” said Weber State coach Randy Rahe. “But I was really proud of how hard they played.”
The Wildcats got a sensational performance from sophomore guard Jerrick Harding to stay within nine of the Cougars the entire game. He was 12 of 20 from the field en route to 29 points, and made countless difficult and circus-like shots.
“We had quite a night trying to guard him,” Rose said. “He had a terrific night.”
Haws had his second straight standout game for BYU, scoring 24 points and going 6 for 6 from the free-throw line, including four makes in the final 19 seconds.
“He has done a good job of picking his spots,” Rose said of Haws. “Tonight, he was really good in the clutch. … We can build on all those things.”
Weber State trailed by two and had the ball after a timeout with 53 seconds remaining, but Yoeli Childs swatted away an offering by Dusty Baker, and the Cougars survived.
“I tried to make something out of nothing,” Baker said. “I thought there was a little bit of contact, but [we] couldn’t get the whistles, but that’s all right.”
BYU led by four after Childs made a free throw with 2:21 remaining, but Baker made a circus shot a minute later to cut the deficit to two, and it was anyone’s game heading into the final minute.
The Wildcats stayed in it despite BYU going 10 of 19 from 3-point range because the rest of the Cougars’ offense sputtered and the designated home team got careless with the ball at times, committing 14 turnovers.
Bryant added 13 points, while Jahshire Hardnett had 11 and Childs and Zac Seljaas chipped in 10 apiece.
“We had a lot of individual performances tonight that were good, but the flow of the offense kinda got stuck,” Rose said. “The ball didn’t move like it has in the past. A lot of that was Weber had us scouted really well and they were defending us with more pressure out on the perimeter.”
Playing against his former team, BYU guard McKay Cannon came off the bench to hit a pair of 3-pointers in the first half, staring down a WSU heckler on the front row after one in particular. Rose said Cannon was needed because the Cougars played without versatile forward Dalton Nixon, who has a foot injury that Rose said could be an issue moving forward.
“When that kid [Cannon] plays with a chip on his shoulder, he’s a damn good player,” Rahe said. “He’s playing like it right now. I’m really happy for him.”
Next up for BYU is the rivalry game Saturday at the Marriott Center against Utah, which beat Utah State 77-67 before the Cougars took the court at Vivint.
“It will have a lot of unnecessary hype, because of the things we have gone through, but I think it is two teams that are improving and getting ready for conference play,” Rose said.