PROVO, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – It was quite a return for Eric Mika.
In his first game since coming back from his mission, Mika set career highs with 26 points and 18 rebounds, as BYU opened the season with an 82-73 victory over Princeton at the Marriott Center.
“It was a dog fight on every possession,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “That’s a very good basketball team we played tonight, and a win that will be a good one for us in January and in March. They’ll win a lot of games.”
Nine of Mika’s 18 rebounds came on the offensive end to tie the BYU single-game record. Mika also notched three assists, two blocks and a steal. True freshman TJ Haws scored 20 points in his BYU debut, shooting 5 of 11 from the field, including three from beyond the arc.
Mika’s and Haws’ former Lone Peak High teammate Nick Emery added 15 points, eight rebounds, and a team-high four assists. Haws and Emery both led the team in steals with three.
“We played a lot of guys that haven’t played at all for our program this season,” Rose said. “The result was really positive for our staff – the way they played aggressively and together.”
BYU (1-0) handled Princeton (0-1) in the paint, grabbing 50 rebounds to the Tigers’ 38. Of the Cougars’ 82 points, 30 came from the free throw line where they went 30 for 41.
The Cougars got just 10 points from it’s bench, five each by Yoeli Childs and Elijah Bryant. But the starting five made enough of a mark on the game.
Emery got the 2016-17 season and the game started with a 3-pointer. The Tigers responded with a 10-2 run to take the lead early in the first half. After a steal from Haws, Childs hit a shot in the paint to spark the Cougars on a 6-0 run. A layup from Emery with 14:25 on the clock gave BYU the 11-10 lead.
Two perfect trips to the charity stripe for Mika tied up the game at 15-15 with 13:10 to play in the first half. The two teams traded buckets for a few minutes until the Cougars took charge. BYU scored 10 unanswered points, seven of which came from Haws, to go up 27-20 with eight minutes until the break.
With 4:50 left in the first half, Bryant took advantage of a Princeton missed dunk. He threw it ahead to Emery for the fast-break layup, extending the lead to 37-28. Emery found Kyle Davis for a layup with 58 seconds until the half to make it 44-35 in BYU’s favor heading into the locker room.
Princeton came out of the break fired up, scoring four straight. The Tigers got within four points before Bryant made a layup to push it back to 48-42 with 16:24 to play. Just over a minute later, Emery dished the ball to Childs for the two-handed dunk, which forced Princeton to call a timeout with BYU up 53-45.
Clawing their way back into the game, the Tigers got within two points. Davis added two points back to the lead with the Cougars’ first field goal in four minutes at the 7:55 mark, making it 63-59.
With 5:54 to play, Mika turned up the volume in the Marriott Center with a three-point play. His three points were part of BYU’s 11-2 run over four minutes to push the lead to double digits, 74-64, with three minutes left in the game.
The Cougars had a 10-point lead with 2:20 to play after a free throw from Mika, but the Tigers kept the game competitive in the final minutes. However, free throw shooting down the stretch kept the lead intact, allowing BYU to close out the 81-73 win over Princeton.
BYU has another home game this Thursday, Nov. 17, against Coppin State at 7 p.m.