Free throws rimmed out and shots didn’t fall, and the Cougars pulled out a big win against the San Francisco Dons, 68-63, to claim sole possession of second place in the WCC.
Despite shooting a mere 41 percent from the field, the Cougars (17-9, 9-4) found a way to bully their way to victory in an ugly game of percentages.
“Everything came really difficult tonight — nothing came easy,” said BYU head coach Dave Rose. “Our guys just battled and made so many plays. We had to make every play that we made.”
Tyler Haws’ stretch of five straight games scoring at least 20 ended Saturday night, but his Cougars found a way to win in a lackluster performance on the offensive side of the ball, out-rebounding the Dons 47-29, 20 of which were offensive.
Sophomore guard Kyle Collinsworth added 19 points for Cougars, grabbed eight rebounds, dropped four assists and two steals to lead the Cougars on the offensive end. Haws notched 19 points on 7-20 from the field, 12 coming in the second half.
Defensively, junior forward Nate Austin went to work, efficiently working the rim to bring down a career-high 16 rebounds, also adding four points on the night. Matt Carlino, who added 11 points off the bench, took note of the role the big men played.
“(Austin) got every board; it was crazy,” Carlino said. “At the end I kind of expected him to grab them because he just kept getting them. He does that every day in practice, and he played awesome.”
True freshman Eric Mika, the second part of the big man duo, took an inbound pass from Haws late in the game for an alleyoop dunk, while Austin took a huge offensive charge late to keep the Cougars in it.
“(Austin’s) numbers are all winning numbers as far as deflections and steals and charges taken and rebounds,” Rose said. “And then defensively he has really come to understand how he can help this team. That charge he took late in the game was huge for us.”
Mika bent to his knees after being pulled midway through the first half, but it wasn’t for lack of performance. The young forward pulled in a career-high 13 rebounds and pocketed 13 points for his second double-double in as many games.
Mika hit a free throw late to give the Cougars their first lead since the 18:44 mark in the second half. The Cougars proceeded to go on a short four-point run, capped off by an Austin tip-back dunk to give the Cougars a four-point lead with a little more than five minutes remaining.
“It was a game we had to win, and we did as a team,” Austin said. “Guys hit shots, guys got rebounds, and we got the stops as a team. Both teams were tied for second place, and we were playing desperate. We were playing for the win, and we got it.”
Tim Derksen led the way for San Francisco (15-10, 8-5), scoring 17 points efficiently, missing just a lone shot from the field, shooting 7-8. The Dons shot almost 49 percent from the field but came up just short of getting a tough win on the road, despite shooting a better percentage in field goals, free throws and three-pointers.
San Francisco head coach Rex Walters was proud of his guys for the effort they put forth but was shocked that a defensive effort didn’t fall the Don’s way.
“The offensive rebounds hurt us,” Walters said. “They’re a really big team across the board. This might be the first time in regulation when we lost and held a team under 70. When we have a defensive mindset we’re pretty darn good.”
Collinsworth laid down a huge right-handed dunk off a feed from Nate Austin as part of a 7-1 run with 13:00 to go in the first half, stretching the Cougar lead to 16-12.
With the score tied at 27, the Cougars mustered up a huge block from Austin, who gathered the ball and raced down the court where Haws bounced off San Francisco’s Derksen and banked it in for two and a foul. They took a 32-29 advantage into the break.
The Cougars’ next battle comes on the road next week with games at Portland (13-11, 5-7) and Saint Mary’s (18-7, 9-4) on Thursday and Saturday respectively.