TJ Haws takes a shot against Illinois State University. Haws finished the game with 20 points. (Dani Jardine)

The BYU men’s basketball team defeated the Illinois State Redbirds 80-68 on Dec. 6 to improve to 7-2 on the season.

Coach Dave Rose mentioned he thought the game was a real challenge for his players due to how the Redbirds played and because it came in the middle of several in-state games.

“I think that, emotionally, we responded to the challenge really well; physically, we responded to the challenge really well,” Rose said. “I’m happy for the guys. I’m happy for the team. It was a good win and a tough challenge. That’s a good team and I think they’re going to win a lot of games and we’ll end up going back there next year and see how that game goes, but I’m happy for the win.

Earlier in the season, Rose mentioned he hoped this team would be one that responds well to different individual stars – and it seems they have.

In previous weeks Elijah Bryant and Yoeli Childs have been leading scorers; tonight, it was TJ Haws.

Haws finished the game with 20 points, three assists and two rebounds.

“It was good that I felt like we got open looks in the first half,” Haws said. “Everyone was helping, making that extra pass and doing those types of things so I thought everyone was getting good looks and guys were finding me for open shots, so that helped a lot.”

Childs also played well, finishing with 17 points and nine rebounds.

“I think that our guys are really developing an identity to themselves,” Rose said. “Three guys tonight had big offensive games and those are guys that we’ll probably rely on all year long.”

Elijah Bryant came close to a triple-double with 17 points, nine rebounds and nine assists and mentioned he didn’t even realize he was close to the achievement.

“I was just playing the game, trying to do what I could do to help the team,” Bryant said.

Rose seemed impressed with Bryant’s work on the court tonight.

“His assignments tonight were difficult,” Rose said. “He was guarding guys that were smaller and quicker than him or bigger and stronger and so for him to be able to continue to rebound the way he does and, you know, he got on a nice roll shooting the ball from the perimeter in the first half. And then what I really like about him is when there’s an opening he can find it, drive it and he’s really good at finishing with contact and getting that thing up on the rim and getting it in.”

The Cougars next game will be played at the Vivint Smart Home Arena against Weber State as part of the Beehive Classic.

Bryant and Haws expressed their excitement about playing in the tournament in Salt Lake City.

“It’ll be a great experience playing in an NBA arena,” Bryant said. “Weber State’s a great team so I think we still have to come out and execute our concepts.”

“Yeah, it’s always a lot of fun to play in an NBA arena, especially close to home, where we have a lot of fans,” Haws added. “I think it’s going to be exciting to play Weber State, you know, with McKay transferring and things like that. It should be a fun game.”

The Beehive Classic will be held on Dec. 9. Tipoff for the Cougars is at 8 p.m. MST.

Utah and Utah State will play earlier that evening.