PORTLAND (ABC4 Sports) – Elijah Bryant had a night like he has never had before.
Bryant finished with a career-high 39 points and went 10 of 17 from the field and 12 of 12 from the free throw line as BYU crushed Portland 97-78 on Thursday to clinch third place in the West Coast Conference.
“The biggest thing for me in this game was to keep on focusing on staying in the moment,” Bryant said. “That allowed me not to have any anxiety or any pressure. I was just playing in the moment and making the right passes. My teammates were also making the right passes which allowed me to have this type of game.”
Bryant’s 39 points combined with a career-high 11 rebounds from Braiden Shaw, who recorded his first career start for BYU (20-10, 11-6 West Coast Conference), contributed to the 19-point win over Portland (25-3, 15-2 WCC).
Three additional Cougars finished in double figures, including Eric Mika with 19 points and eight rebounds, Nick Emery who finished with 16 points and three 3-pointers and Steven Beo who recorded 12 points, tying his career-high. BYU finished the game shooting 50 percent from the field.
The Cougars recorded a season-high 13 3-pointers, with seven coming from Bryant. Bryant’s performance of 39 points are the most by any player in the WCC this season.
“We talked about it in pregame and I felt like these guys would come out and compete,” head coach Dave Rose said. “I didn’t know if we would come out and compete individually or compete together. That’s what I am the happiest with. These guys were as good as we’ve been together tonight in a really long time.”
After Portland opening the game on top 2-0, BYU hit four straight 3-pointers from Emery and Bryant, and the Cougars took a 12-3 lead that was then extended to 14-3 after two Mika free throws. The Pilots fought back, however, scoring four straight points before Bryant and Mika combined for seven more points and a 20-7 lead with 14:14 remaining.
Bryant and Emery continued to fire away from three, each recording another trey, with Mika scoring a layup to put the Cougars up 28-13 over the Pilots. Following a timeout, Emery drained a third 3-pointer which was followed by two Bryant free throws before BYU went scoreless for the next two-and-a-half minutes. Emery then took the lid off the basket with a jumper and the Cougars went up 35-19 with 8:32 remaining in the half.
“I am always super confident in my shot but it has been hard coming off of an injury this year,” Bryant said. “I noticed that I wasn’t jumping as high on my shot so I have been working extra on my shot, trying to put a little more arc on it. I finally was able to find the sweet spot where I need to shoot it. I’ve had to make adjustments and put extra time in the gym and finally had a game.”
Shaw and Beo began contributing to the Cougars’ total, each recording a field goal to put BYU up 39-23 with 6:33 to go. Mika came up with BYU’s next seven points, but turnovers began to plague the Cougars as Portland cut the deficit to 12 with free throws, a jumper and a 3-pointer with 1:37 remaining. Bryant entered the game again and scored four quick points and Emery finished off the half with a free throw with one second left and BYU went into the locker room up 51-34.
The Cougars opened up the half with a Mika jumper, followed by Haws’ first points of the game, a 3-pointer, to put BYU up by 20, 56-36. Mika and Shaw combined for four more points before Bryant scored yet another 3-pointer. Beo recorded five more points including a trey to extend the Cougar lead to 25, 70-45 with 13:47 left in the game.
BYU began to slow down a bit in the final minutes, but two more 3-pointers from Bryant were enough to maintain a comfortable lead over Portland. Mika, Emery, Beo and Frampton all contributed additional points in the final four minutes while a rare eight-point possession for the Pilots shortened the Cougar lead to 17, at 95-78. It would prove inconsequential, however, as BYU cruised to victory, defeating the Pilots, 97-78.
The Cougars will next travel to Spokane to conclude the regular season against the last undefeated team in the nation, top-ranked Gonzaga at McCarthey Athletic Center. BYU has beaten Gonzaga the last two teams they’ve played in Spokane.