PROVO, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – The BYU defense stepped up big time, while Yoeli Childs continued his dominant play, as BYU held off St. Mary’s Thursday night, 71-66, to move into third place in the West Coast Conference.
Childs scored 23 points and pulled down 11 rebounds for his 32nd career double-double, while TJ Haws added 17 points and 7 assists, as the Cougars avenged a 22-point loss to the Gaels three weeks ago.
“I think we did a great job of being locked in as a unit,” said Childs, who took over the conference scoring lead over St. Mary’s guard Jordan Ford. “When we got beat other guys came over to help and make the extra play. We had to get back to playing for each other like we were doing the rest of the game.”
“I think that it was a real quality win for our team,” BYU head coach Dave 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 rebounds, it shows determination and grit.”
Gavin Baxter came off the bench to score 10 points, pull down five rebounds and block two shots.
The Cougars played one of its best defensive games of the year, forcing the Gaels into 15 turnovers, five above their average, and 44 percent shooting. St. Mary’s made just 5 of 20 shots (25%) from 3-point range.
“We did a great job of guarding as a team and making them uncomfortable,” said Haws, who had two of BYU’s eight steals. “A lot of their guys are really talented and we made them do things that they don’t normally do or don’t want to do, like forcing them to the off hand or making them shoot challenging shots. We knew they were going to make some tough shots, and they did, but we’ll live with them shooting those tough ones all night.”
On offense, BYU was virtually mistake-free, committing a season-low two turnovers for the entire game.
Malik Fitts scored 19 points for Saint Mary’s (13-8, 4-2), while Jordan Ford scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half.
Saint Mary’s, which leads the WCC in 3-point field goals at 39.5 percent, missed its first 13 from behind the arc.
After a breakaway dunk by Zac Seljaas gave BYU a 61-49 lead with 5:35 left, the Gaels mounted a furious rally, going on a 10-0 run to cut the lead to two.
But buckets by Haws and Childs helped the Cougars pull away down the stretch.
After the game, Childs called it one of the biggest wins of the season.
“It felt amazing,” he said. “It’s up there with beating Utah. We’ve had a tough run against Saint Mary’s – they’re a tough team to beat. They execute well on offense and make it hard for you on defense. They’re a great team, and it feels great to beat a great team.”
BYU improves to 13-9 on the year, 5-2 in the WCC, in third place behind Gonzaga and San Francisco.
The Cougars get their first shot at the 4th-ranked Bulldogs on January 31st at the Marriott Center.