In an exciting season opener, the Cougars competed with the highly-touted No. 7 Nevada Wolf Pack for the game’s first 30 minutes before slipping behind in the second half and ultimately falling 86-70.
BYU responded from an early 9-0 deficit to tie the game 34-34 at halftime, with Nevada’s preseason All-American Caleb Martin failing to find the scoreboard. Martin would explode for 21 points in the second half while the Cougars would lose star forward Yoeli Childs to foul trouble after playing just 26 minutes.
The Cougars struggled to shoot from behind the arc, hitting just 19 percent (6-31) of their threes. They also flirted with foul trouble all night, sending Nevada players to the line for 39 foul shots, where they would make 72 percent of them.
“The free-throw line was a real issue,” BYU head coach Dave Rose said. “We fouled them a lot, which I feel was a big part of our competitive spirit in battling them, so we put them at the free-throw line way too many times. (Three-point shooting) was a big part of how this team was put together, and for us to be what we want to be we need to be more confident.”
Guard Jahshire Hardnett tied a career high and led the Cougars with 17 points. Childs posted a double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out late in the second half. Guard Zac Seljaas recorded eight points and was the only BYU player to hit multiple threes.
“(Hardnett) was a guy who tried to do more than he was comfortable with because of our numbers,” Rose said. “I knew he’d have a lot of opportunities tonight and get in there.”
Forward Jordan Caroline led the Wolf Pack with 25 points and 16 rebounds. Martin’s twin brother Cody went scoreless but had 11 assists, and guard Jazz Johnson added 12 points off the bench for Nevada.
Despite the loss, there were plenty of positive takeaways from competing with a team like Nevada, who narrowly missed the Final Four last season and are the favorite to repeat as Mountain West champions.
“It kind of set the tone for how we are going to fight and scrap throughout the season,” Seljaas said. “We have the confidence needed to make shots, we just gotta go out there and stick them.”
Rose said he was pleased with the physical performance of his players, taking on an NBA-sized Nevada starting lineup that featured five players 6 feet 7 inches or taller.
“I thought our guys really battled, it was a real physical game,” Rose said. “(Nevada) is long and athletic, and I thought our plan was really good. Our guys executed that plan, we got ourselves into positions where we were wide open in transition and got good shots. We battled them on the boards. I thought that would be a real key in the game.”
Despite the encouraging competition, Rose acknowledged the missed opportunity that came with falling short against such a high-profile opponent.
“There were a lot of things here that we can build on, the sad part is the game was a winnable game, coming out of the gate and beating a top-10 team could have really elevated us and put us in a great spot,” Rose said.
BYU will look to rebound on Nov. 9 against the neighborhood rival Utah Valley University Wolverines in the Cougars’ home opener.