Malibu, Calif. • The more aggressive Pepperdine got Thursday night at Firestone Fieldhouse, the more BYU guard TJ Haws liked it.
Haws went to the free-throw line an astounding 22 times and made 18 of those freebies en route to a career-high 34 points and the Cougars scratched their way past the Waves 87-76 in front of an announced crowd of 1,714.
“I thought they played really aggressively tonight, and that really helped us,” Haws said after making more free throws than any opponent in a single game in Pepperdine history.
BYU (4-1, 12-8) coach Dave Rose called the victory a “gut-check win,” because the Cougars led by nine at halftime, then came out “just a little bit flat” in the second half and watched the Waves (2-3, 9-10) rally to take the lead midway through the half.
“Our ability to play on attack and get to the free-throw line really helped us,” Rose said.
The Cougars went 26 of 34 from the free-throw line, the Waves 22 of 34.
So the Cougars discovered they can win back-to-back games at the Waves’ tiny gymnasium, having won 75-70 in overtime here last year after losing four straight when Marty Wilson coached Pepperdine.
They also learned that freshman Gavin Baxter probably should have been playing more when they were struggling in December. Baxter scored 13 points off the bench, a career-high, including a couple monster dunks after lobs from Haws, and also blocked three shots.
“I guess it was being in the right place at the right time,” Baxter said. “… TJ put the passes on the money both times.”
Baxter played 23 minutes, seven more than his previous high, and was on the court in crunch time when the Cougars pulled ahead.
“Gavin gave us tremendous minutes on both ends of the floor,” Rose said.
Haws led all scorers with 34 points, a career-high, while Yoeli Childs added 20, including 13 in the second half. Childs ribbed Haws about being “the next James Harden” as he exited the locker room, referencing all the free throws the junior took and made.
The Cougars led 44-35 at halftime and were feeling good about themselves considering they were 10-1 when leading at halftime entering the game.
But Pepperdine quickly closed the gap with a 15-5 run out of the locker room, spurred by Kameron Edwards’ nine points. He finished with 22.
Childs’ one-handed dunk with 12:15 left gave the Cougars a 56-52 lead, but Pepperdine kept coming. The Waves scored four points on the same possession to take a 58-56 lead midway through the second half.
But BYU quickly regained the advantage, and pushed its lead to 72-66 on Baxter’s driving basket and 76-70 on the freshman’s big dunk. Pepperdine did not make a field goal in the game’s final three and a half minutes.
“One of the keys to the game was our ability to rebound their misses,” Rose said.
Zac Seljaas added nine points, all in the first half, and 10 rebounds to BYU’s totals.
Sophomore guard Colbey Ross, the third-leading scorer in the WCC with a 19.0 average, had 14 in the first half to lead the Waves and finished with 24.
“It is huge for us to be able to play well here and get a win,” Haws said.
BYU played without 15-game starter Jahshire Hardnett for the third-straight game. The junior guard who has an injured left hand made the trip and could possibly play Saturday at San Francisco, Rose said.
However, his hand is in a cast, even though doctors are calling it a bone bruise.
The Dons improved to 15-3 Thursday with a 53-52 win at Pacific.