Provo • For all their problems and inconsistencies this college basketball season, the BYU Cougars have played well at home, save a December game against Houston.
That trend continued Thursday night, as BYU downed West Coast Conference nemesis Saint Mary’s 71-66 in front of 11,427 fans at the Marriott Center.
For the Cougars, the word of the night was determination.
“Our purpose was really good tonight,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “We had open shots that we really didn’t just settle for. We knew what we wanted to get, and for most of the night we were pretty good making sure we got that.”
Yoeli Childs scored 23 points and TJ Haws added 17 as the Cougars improved to 5-2 in WCC play, 13-9 overall. Saint Mary’s dropped to 4-2 and 13-8.
“Amazing,” Childs said of the Cougars’ 10th home win. “It is up there with beating Utah, beating those guys. … They are a great team, and it feels good to beat a great team.”
The overall series is tied at 14-14, although Saint Mary’s entered the game having won six of the last seven.
“It was just a real quality win for our team,” Rose said. “I think our guys responded well to a disappointing outcome a couple weeks ago at their place. We weathered a lot of storms. When you hold a team to 66 points and they get 17 offensive rebounds, I think it shows a little bit of your determination and grit.”
Malik Fitts led Saint Mary’s with 19 points, while Jordan Ford added 15, after Fitts scored eight of The Gaels' first 10 points.
“Number 24 looked like he was going to score 50, to start the game,” Rose said of Fitts, a transfer from South Florida. “He’s a handful.”
Of all the interesting stats the game produced — like how Saint Mary’s didn’t have an assist until 10 minutes remained and didn’t make a 3-pointer until seven minutes remained — the most glaring was that BYU committed just two turnovers.
“I think that our execution on the offensive end was maybe as good as it has been,” Rose said. “You don’t play many games where you turn the ball over just twice, and no turnovers in the second half.”
Still, wins over Saint Mary’s are never easy for BYU.
Gavin Baxter’s putback with 8:36 remaining gave the Cougars a 52-41 lead and the Cougars were up 61-49 after a Zac Seljaas dunk with 5:45 left. Baxter finished with 10 points and five rebounds.
Then Saint Mary’s came alive. Ford and Fitts hit consecutive 3-pointers and Ford made a field goal and a pair of free throws. But Haws and Childs made back-to-back field goals and Baxter added a dunk after a beautiful pass from Haws and the Cougars were back in control.
It was BYU’s first regular-season win over the Gaels since February of 2016. The Cougars forced 15 turnovers, which they turned into 17 points.
“We took a step forward defensively,” Haws said.
The Gaels finished 5 of 20 from 3-point range and had just five assists on 26 baskets.
Ford heated up late, but was 6 of 15 from the field before fouling out.
“I feel like the crowd was unbelievable the whole night,” said Childs, who also had 11 rebounds, two blocks and two steals.
Baxter and Nick Emery gave the Cougars a lift off the bench midway through the half, but it was starter McKay Cannon’s play that jump-started BYU.
After Haws went to the bench with his second foul with a little more than eight minutes remaining in the half, Cannon scored five straight points to spur an eventual 10-0 run. Childs hit a 3-pointer that bounced high off the rim and back through to give the Cougars a 27-22 lead, and the Marriott Center was as loud as it has been all season.
Childs then hit a high-arcing 2-pointer to beat the halftime buzzer and send the Cougars into the locker room with a 33-26 advantage.
Baxter played more than 27 minutes and helped slow Fitts defensively.
“His length caused Fitts some problems,” Rose said. “His legs are live and his length really helps us.”
The Cougars return to the Marriott Center next Thursday to host league-leading Gonzaga.