BYU gets going in second half to down Texas Southern for eighth straight win

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars forward Yoeli Childs (23) shoots for the Cougars, in basketball action, Brigham Young Cougars vs Texas Southern Tigers, at the Marriott Center in Provo, Saturday, December 23, 2017.

Provo • Sometimes, a college basketball game just doesn’t seem that important.

Such was the case on Saturday night as red-hot BYU rolled past winless Texas Southern 73-52 in front of an announced crowd of 14,583 at the Marriott Center for its eighth straight victory to finish its nonconference slate with an 11-2 record.

Before the game, a moment of silence was held to respect the father of star Tigers guard Demontrae “Trae” Jefferson, who was shot and killed earlier in the week. Jefferson, Texas Southern’s leading scorer at 23.4 points a game and the SWAC Freshman of the Year in 2016-17, did not make the trip from Houston to Provo. The Tigers also played without starters Robert Lewis and Derrick Bruce, for unrelated reasons.

“It is hard to really talk about the game when you know that you have somebody on their team that is dealing with the unthinkable,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “I talked to [TSU coach] Mike [Davis] before the game and he says that Trae is doing the best that you can expect.”

BYU guard TJ Haws, who scored 11 points, said the Cougars prepared to face Jefferson, a 5-foot-7 sophomore from Milwaukee, knowing it would be a monumental challenge because of what he showed in TSU’s previous 12 games, all losses on the road.

“That’s definitely a hard situation,” Haws said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family.”

Texas Southern put up a spirited fight, overcoming an early 19-11 deficit to take a 28-24 lead two minutes before halftime. But the Cougars scored the final seven points of the half to take control and never trailed in the second half.

After going 1 of 7 from the floor and scoring just three points in the first half, BYU sophomore Yoeli Childs got rolling in the second half and finished with a game-high 19 points on 7-of-16 shooting. Haws was the only other Cougar in double figures as leading scorer Elijah Bryant got in a bit of foul trouble and had just eight points, tying his second-lowest output of the season.

“I was shooting like crap, and every single guy on our team had my back,” Childs said. “I love these dudes to death. They just came up, patted me on the back, said ‘keep shooting, keep shooting.’”

Last season, a sluggish start offensively might have spelled doom, but the Cougars don’t mail it in defensively this year when things aren’t clicking on the other end. They held the Tigers to a season-low 52 points, noteworthy considering TSU has played the most difficult schedule in the country.

“What usually comes easy for us didn’t come easy for us tonight, but our guys still hung in there and played together, got help from our bench,” Rose said. “We did a lot of things tonight that will really pay off down the road when [we] are competing for a conference championship.”

Seldom-used freshman Rylan Bergersen started the turnaround with a 3-pointer late in the first half, and Jahshire Hardnett added a triple moments later. Just as he did the last two games, wins over Utah and Idaho State, sophomore Payton Dastrup sparked the Cougars off the bench in the second half. He finished with seven points and six rebounds in 13 minutes.

“There were so many good learning, teaching points in the game that we will kinda address when we get back next week,” Rose said. “I saw a lot of growth in our team with a group that was a little bit physically and mentally tired from a pretty tough week, and a pretty tough last eight days.”

Of course, that’s nothing compared to what Texas Southern is going through, and Rose acknowledged that.

“It is a game that we are playing, and sometimes life really kinda gets in the way,” Rose said. “I wish their team the very best. … They have a projected NCAA Tournament team [picked to win automatic bid in the SWAC] and we wish them well.”

Storylines<br>• The Cougars conclude nonconference play with eight straight wins and an 11-2 record.<br>• Yoeli Childs scores 16 of his game-high 19 points in the second half for slow-starting BYU.<br>* Winless Texas Southern plays its 13th-straight road game without leading scorer Trae Jefferson, whose father was killed earlier in the week.