By Marc Owen
It”s wasn”t easy, but the BYU men”s basketball team earned its 38th straight victory at home, defeating the University of San Diego Toreros 64-49 at the Marriott Center.
It was a game of two halves, with the Cougars dominating the second.
With 12:49 left in the game, BYU trailed the visiting Toreros 41-38. The Cougars had trouble matching San Diego”s tough, physical play. The Toreros were able to score inside and out against BYU.
Then the Cougars went on a run. An 18-0 run over the next six minutes to be exact. Five different Cougars scored during the decisive stretch.
The players said the biggest change from the first half to the second was their approach to the game.
“Nobody seemed to bring any energy in the first half,” head coach Steve Cleveland said. “In the second half, we came out with a lot more energy.
In the first half, San Diego held BYU to 37 percent shooting from the field and led 28-26.
Cleveland said the first half performance wasn”t what the Cougar coaches were looking for.
“We were lucky to be down by two,” he said. “When you don”t play with great energy, it frustrates you as a coach.”
However, the second half belonged to the Cougars. BYU outscored the Toreros 38-21 in the second half and shot 53 percent from the field. BYU”s defense tightened up also, suffocating San Diego”s offense. San Diego shot a measly 26 percent in the second half.
Senior guard Travis Hansen said a good defensive effort requires that everyone on the floor do their job.
“You have to have five guys playing hard to get a defensive stop,” Hansen said. “It”s more of an ”us” thing than an ”I” thing.”
The Cougars also got an unexpected spark from the seldom-used junior forward Jake Shoff.
Shoff has been suffering from a bulging disc in his back, but was given an epidural shot to relieve the pain. He scored four points and grabbed an offensive rebound in nine minutes of play.
“It hasn”t felt this good in three months,” Shoff said of his back.
The game looked to be tough from the beginning as San Diego used its bruising 6-foot-10, 290-pound center, Jake Keep, to score inside. Keep scored 4 points in the games first minute, including a monster dunk over two Cougars.
BYU and the Toreros played a closely matched first half, exchanging the lead six times in the half. BYU closed the first half on a 3-pointer by sophomore forward John Allen.
The Cougars opened up the second half strong, scoring nine straight points.
However, The Toreros didn”t give up, going on a 13-3 run of their own to take a three-point lead. But BYU rallied and the Cougars closed the game out with their 18-0 run.
The win moves the Cougars to 6-1 on the season, 2-0 at home.
Junior guard Kevin Woodberry came out of his shooting slump from the field, connecting on 50 percent of his shots. Woodberry continued to struggle from line, however, hitting only half his free throws.
The normally sharp-shooting Cougars shot a dismal 55 percent from the stripe for the game.
Four Cougars scored in double-digits, led by Hansen”s 17.
In-state rival Utah State comes to Provo on Saturday Dec. 14 for BYU”s next game. Tip-off is 7 p.m. in the Marriott Center.