Provo • All those early mornings and late nights shooting in the cultural hall of his neighborhood church paid off for BYU’s TJ Haws on Saturday night.
The Cougars’ junior guard nailed a 3-pointer with a minute, 33 seconds remaining to give BYU some breathing room as an intense, highly competitive second half wrapped up and the Cougars escaped with an 80-74 win over upset-minded Santa Clara in front of an announced crowd of 12,709 at the Marriott Center.
“I have been preparing to do that my whole life,” said Haws, who finished with 16 points and eight assists with just one turnover. “I feel like I’ve been preparing to do that since I was a kid. You know, early mornings at the church, late nights at the church. Shooting in high school gyms. I have been shooting those shots my whole life.”
Few have been bigger.
Santa Clara (10-8, 2-2) had cut a BYU lead that was as large as 12 points to three with a free throw with 1:47 left, and coach Dave Rose dialed up a play that freed his most reliable outside shooter.
“What goes through my mind is I hope it goes in,” Rose said. “But that was a great play. We executed it perfectly. Guys made the right read. We got that thing to him. He had the time, and it was a really big shot.”
Haws hadn’t scored in nearly 13 minutes of game time, but when his number was called he delivered.
“We called one of our plays — two guards coming off two screens — and I happened to be open,” he said. “I had a great look at it and I felt confident taking it. And it felt good the whole way.”
Rose hopes the two-game homestand in which the Cougars (11-8, 3-1 WCC) beat lowly Portland easily and then had to grind out a win over a much-improved Santa Clara squad that “can really cause you issues” will be just what his team needs to stay in the upper third of the league standings throughout the season.
“This was a real positive energy-builder for our group,” Rose said.
Once again, Yoeli Childs carried the Cougars. The big man scored 27 points on 9-of-17 shooting and added six rebounds and two steals.
However, Childs may have unwittingly shifted the momentum when he was whistled for a technical foul — “an unsportsmanlike act,” referee Eric Curry said at the scorer’s table — after a dunk that gave BYU a 55-45 lead with 13:12 remaining
SCU’s leading scorer, Tahj Eaddy, made four free throws from the technical and the ensuing possession, and the Broncos were right back in it.
“He looked at the guy [he dunked on] and pointed at him,” Rose said. “I don’t know if he said something or not. But there were … a lot of whistles, a lot of interesting whistles.”
Rose said the call was a “momentum-killer for us” because he had to take Childs out of the game with three fouls.
“A lot of bad things happened on that play,” Rose said. “He might have thought he got fouled on the dunk, too. I don’t know.”
Eaddy, SCU’s leading scorer, finished with just 10 points, all in the second half, while freshmen Trey Wertz and Keshawn Justice combined for 37 and former Wasatch Academy star Josip Vrankic had 16.
BYU couldn’t shake them “because they are a really good team,” said BYU forward Luke Worthington, who scored a season-high 13 points in 19 minutes. “Bottom line, they have been playing well lately, and they have won multiple games and they have a certain confidence to them. … It was a battle to the very end, and fortunately we were every bit as tough down the stretch and able to pull it out.”
Haws saw to that. He started getting ready a long time ago.