Provo • BYU’s basketball team treated its fans to a little Thanksgiving Eve treat Wednesday night.
The Cougars shot the ball better than they have all season, and buried the Rice Owls 105-78 in front of 11,631 at the Marriott Center to win their fifth straight game.
“It will make everything taste a little bit better tomorrow with the big win,” coach Dave Rose said after the Cougars improved to 5-1 with a convincing win over the Conference USA foe.
The Cougars shot a season-high 56 percent from the field and 36 percent from 3-point range (10 of 28) in producing what Rose called “the best offensive night of the season for us, so far.”
The only downer was that junior forward Yoeli Childs did not post another double-double, after getting one in all five previous games. Childs scored a game-high 28 points and grabbed seven rebounds in 32 minutes. Both teams shot well enough that there weren’t a lot of rebounds to be had, BYU finishing with 38 caroms and Rice with 35.
"We were really sharing the ball early, and I think we played at a good pace,” Rose said. “We took a few shots that were extremely quick that I think you would rather as a coach flip that thing back and go side to side. But I think the pace of how we want to play, the guys are getting really comfortable with. We got the ball inside early and Yo scored and we got it inside out and we made shots. We were just tough to guard.”
Rose has been waiting for co-point guards TJ Haws and Jahshire Hardnett to play well together — both like to have the ball in their hands — and that finally happened against the overmatched Owls (3-3).
Hardnett had a career-high 20 points on 6 of 7 shooting — 3 of 4 from 3-point range — and Haws added 18 points and tied a career-high with eight assists.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Haws, who has 14 assists and just two turnovers in his last two games. “I think we have been pushing the ball a lot recently, and we have been getting good looks. They haven’t been falling for us as much as we would like. Tonight we saw them fall. It proves that when we shoot the ball like this, we can be a dangerous team if we defend well. It is fun to see the shots go in.”
Hardnett credited his teammates for getting him the ball in situations where he feels comfortable shooting.
“I knew eventually I would start seeing them go in,” he said. “They fell tonight, so that was a good thing.”
The Cougars shot 58 percent in the first half and shook off another sluggish start to race out to a 54-43 lead at the break. Five of Haws’ assists came in the first 20 minutes as the ball moved crisply and shots fell on almost every trip down the court.
“When you are feeling it, it is fun to get others involved as well, and that makes us a very hard team to guard,” Haws said.
Both teams increased their defensive intensity in the second half after providing little resistance in the first 20 minutes. Rice was held to 36 percent shooting in the second half.
“I think defensibly we talked about having an edge to us,” Haws said. “We have talked all year about defending as a team, to be a little more in the gaps, helping each other. It is not just one guy. It is everyone guarding everyone.”
BYU led just 60-52 with 13 minutes remaining when Zac Seljaas drained a 3-pointer that sent the home team on a 12-0 run and was capped by a pair of dunks from Childs.
“That was a big shot,” Rose said of Seljaas’ only triple. “Got the crowd going. I liked the decision-making that we had today.”
Haws hit back-to-back 3-pointers with a little more than six minutes remaining and Gavin Baxter added a layup to push BYU’s lead to 30 points. Baxter returned to action after sustaining a concussion last week against Oral Roberts.
Rose was pleased with how well the Cougars took care of the ball (just six turnovers) and adjusted to Rice’s dribble-penetration game in the second half.
“It was a good time to play a good game and have a lot of guys play well,” he said. “There are three or four of these holidays every season that you go through and hope to keep your focus.”