Provo • Believe it or not, Thursday night’s college basketball game between BYU and Portland was actually close for a few fleeting moments at the end of the first half after the Cougars ran out to a quick 19-point lead in the first 10 minutes.
Then BYU’s Rylan Bergersen hit the biggest shot of the game, a 3-pointer just before the halftime buzzer. Rylan who?
The seldom-used sophomore from Boise, Idaho, who coach Dave Rose said earned more playing time with his effort in practice, that’s who.
Taking that newfound momentum into the second half, the Cougars regained their poise and ran away from the Pilots again in the final 20 minutes, eventually settling for a 79-56 win in front of an announced crowd of 10,733 at the Marriott Center.
“I thought that Rylan’s basket at the end of the first half was really big. It kinda stopped the bleeding and gave us a two-possession lead going into halftime,” Rose said.
So the Cougars improved to 2-1 in WCC play, 10-8 overall, in their first home game in 29 days, and fought past the distraction earlier in the week when it was reported Monday that junior guard Jahshire Hardnett had quit the team.
Hardnett returned to practice Wednesday and warmed up for awhile Thursday before doctors notified BYU head athletic trainer Rob Ramos that Hardnett’s injured left hand was still causing him pain and he was not cleared to play. Rose said Hardnett suffered the injury during the 88-66 loss at Saint Mary’s Saturday.
“It was planned to play him if he could,” Rose said. “Now we have kinda been put on a watch. Hopefully it is quick.”
For a 10-minute stretch in the first half, it appeared the Cougars needed their troubled guard. After BYU took a 25-6 lead by playing “maybe as well as we’ve played all year long as far as our execution, our patience, our effort defensively,” according to Rose, the Cougars went into a funk.
Some of it was caused by foul trouble as no fewer than five Cougars picked up two fouls in the first 20 minutes. And Portland heated up, after missing 12 of its first 14 shots.
“Our focus was kind of erratic,” Rose said. “We were taking the first shot that was available instead of having patience and getting the shot that we actually wanted. … And then we turned them on. That’s an interesting thing — guys get excited about cutting into that lead.”
The Pilots (7-10, 0-2) used a 24-8 run to get within three before Bergersen’s big basket, his second of the first half, gave BYU a 36-30 lead at the break.
“Ry’s shot was huge,” said Yoeli Childs, who recorded his 11th double-double — 28 points, 12 rebounds — with another monster game BYU fans have come to expect, and perhaps take for granted. “A three-point game at halftime is a lot different than a six-point game at halftime. … It gave us a little bit of momentum, a little bit of juice going into the second half. So, good shot by Ry.”
Childs simply took over in the second half, scoring 20 points on 6-of-7 shooting. He was also 8 of 9 from the free-throw line. He was one of three Cougars who made multiple 3-point shots.
“It was awesome to watch,” said BYU forward Zac Seljaas, who hit a pair of triples himself en route to eight points. “You are watching an NBA prospect, just right on the court. You are watching him do all these amazing things. Once he does that, it opens up things for everyone else. … It is so fun to play with him. He just has that all-around game.”
Childs leaned over in the postgame news conference and whispered loudly to Seljaas that he would “Venmo you” after the interviews for the kind words.
So the Cougars are feeling good about themselves again as they prepare for Santa Clara’s visit on Saturday. Haws had a quiet scoring night with just six points, but dished out seven assists and committed just one turnover in 21 minutes.
“The second half was, for 20 minutes, very similar to how we played for the first 10 minutes of the game,” Rose said. “So I am really pleased with the win.”