A first-half comeback and solid zone defense propelled BYU to an 88-82 win over the Creighton Bluejays in the quarterfinals of the National Invitation Tournament Tuesday night.
Senior guard Kyle Collinsworth was suffering from the flu and did not start for the first time since February 2011. He played just 20 minutes. Other Cougars stepped up to the plate, including freshman guard Zac Seljaas and junior forward Kyle Davis. Seljaas earned the start and played on the wing while usual starter Nick Emery slid over to play point guard.
“It’s a big shoe to fill, to start for Kyle,” Seljaas said. “It was a time to get in and get going, and then have Kyle come in and help as much as he can.”
Davis said the team rallied behind their best player and it was a “good opportunity” for the team to “pay him back a little bit.”
Creighton controlled the tempo for most of the first half, but Seljaas’ 11 first-half points ignited a double-digit comeback. BYU took its first lead of the game with 27 seconds left in the half and held on for a narrow 38-37 lead at halftime.
BYU switched to a zone defense in the second half, which made all the difference. The Cougars’ solid defense allowed them to get some stops and prevent the Bluejays’ perimeter attack. After Creighton converted on 38.5 percent of its 3-point attempts in the first half, BYU held it to just 23.1 percent in the second half.
Seljaas made 5-of-6 shots from beyond the arc. He led the Cougars with 19 points and seven rebounds.
“Zac was really good tonight,” said BYU head coach Dave Rose. “He grew up, took a huge role. This is a tremendous game for anybody, let alone a first-year player that’s really put in a spot.”
Rose said the Cougars weren’t sure how much Collinsworth was going to be able to contribute, but they had a better idea at halftime of how they could utilize him.
“He wasn’t going to be as active defensively, and he wasn’t going to be nearly as active on the boards, but he could still help us facilitate our offense and then score when needed,” Rose said.
Gauging Collinsworth’s play gave the other players confidence. Collinsworth played well, especially considering how sick he was. He put up 10 points and had five boards in his final game in the Marriott Center.
“(This game is) just a testament to how much of a leader and a fighter he is,” Davis said.
BYU was energized by its defensive play and built a 15-point lead before pulling away with the 88-82 victory.
Five players scoring double-digits, led by Seljaas’ 19 points. Davis added 18 points while freshman Nick Emery contributed 17 points and seven rebounds. Senior guard Chase Fischer scored 15 points, including 10 in the second half. Fischer passed 1,100 total points in his 70th game as a Cougar and is now tied with Dick Nemelka as the sixth-fastest in BYU history to reach 1,100 points. Collinsworth’s 10 points rounded up BYU’s double-digit scorers.
The Cougars will face Valparaiso University in the NIT semifinals Tuesday, March 29 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.