San Francisco • With just more than eight minutes remaining Thursday night, BYU’s game against San Francisco was looking eerily like its loss five days ago to Saint Mary’s. The Cougars had given up several big leads, and the Dons hit a 3-pointer to take their first lead of the game.
But it was the Cougars who executed better down the stretch this time, and they rode off with a 69-59 win over the Dons at War Memorial Gymnasium.
“I thought that we were just really good down the stretch,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “We executed really well. When we got to the [under eight-minute timeout] and they took the lead, we were in a timeout and the guys were pretty determined that we were going to execute better than we did the other night and finish this thing off.”
It started with a big dunk by Yoeli Childs. The Elijah Bryant took over, scoring five quick points, including a 3-pointer. After a USF free throw, Childs had another dunk and junior college transfer Jahshire Hardnett, playing his best game as a Cougar, hit a pair of free throws and made a driving layup.
Suddenly, the Cougars had a 65-56 lead and were back in control. They cruised to their seventh straight win at USF and 10th in a row overall over the Dons to improve to 2-1 in West Coast Conference play, 13-3 overall. The Dons fell to 1-2 and 9-7.
“We had guys in foul trouble. We had guys play a lot of minutes and were chasing them all night long,” Rose said. “They remind me of old Air Force teams. …. We got some big offensive plays, but I thought defensively is where we won that thing down the stretch.”
Indeed, after Jordan Ratinho hit the 3-pointer to give USF a 53-51 advantage and leading scorer Souley Boum, scoreless in the first half, hit a shot to give the Dons a 55-53 lead, USF went the next six possessions without a field goal.
“I think it just started on defense,” said Bryant, who led the Cougars with 17 points on 5 of 14 shooting. Childs added 13 while battling foul trouble and Hardnett chipped in 11.
“It was just me being more aggressive and not overthinking things,” Hardnett said.
Luke Worthington added nine points and TJ Haws had seven. Matt McCarthy led USF with 16.
It appeared BYU would cruise to the win in the opening minutes.
The Cougars blazed out to a 23-10 lead the first 10 minutes, but USF answered with a 13-1 run to get back in it.
Childs picked up two offensive fouls in the first eight minutes and spent a big chunk of time on the bench in the first half.
Six-foot-9 junior McCarthy fueled USF’s comeback with an array of inside moves, and guard Chase Foster went 3 of 6 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes en route to 11 first-half points. Foster finished with 14.
But they were quiet in crunch time, and Childs dominated.
“They were really physical with Yo to start the game,” Rose said. “I mean, he comes off a big game the other night and their focus was to make it really difficult on him. He starts out with a foul on the very first possession and then he got his second one.”
That was a big turning point, however, as the other Cougars stepped up and Childs got it going late.
“Yo’s defensive effort, his focus, just his whole execution, his toughness in the last eight minutes, kinda changed for us” Rose said. “He made huge plays, got a couple big dunks. … I thought he really grew up tonight as far as his ability to deal with adversity and then really come back and help his team win.”
Bryant took a hard fall driving to the hoop early in the second half and stayed down for awhile, but was able to make a free throw after a timeout.
“It’s fine,” he said of his sore hip. “I’ll be fine.”
Up next for BYU is another road game on Saturday at Pacific.