BYU defeats rival St. Mary’s 71-66

TJ Haws jukes a Saint Mary’s player and drives the ball to the basket on Jan. 24. (Emma Willes)

BYU men’s basketball transferred the positive energy of a home environment into a 71-66 win against the St. Mary’s College (SMC) Gaels on Thursday, Jan. 24.

Just three weeks ago on Jan. 5, BYU faced SMC in the Gaels’ hometown of Moraga, California. BYU walked away with a 66-88 loss.

“I think today was a real quality win for our team,” head coach Dave Rose said Thursday. “I think our guys responded well to a disappointing outcome a couple of weeks ago at their place. We’ve weathered a lot of storms.”

After evaluating the Gaels’ past performances, BYU coaches said they prepared the team to tackle SMC’s specialties: scoring in the paint, post ups, layups and 3-pointers. 

“We talked about those the last few days because that’s what (SMC is) taught, that’s what they do and that’s what they’re good at,” junior forward Yoeli Childs said. “We just try to take those things away and make them shoot that mid-range area shot where they’re not as uncomfortable.”

Yoeli Childs takes a jump shot outside the paint on Jan. 24. (Emma Willes)

Currently, the Cougars hold a 13-9 record, with 10 of those successes being on home turf. Coming off a loss in San Francisco, head coach Dave Rose stressed the importance of getting back to the Marriott Center to refresh.

“You’ve got to continue to win because the confidence is so important with these guys and you need that positive reinforcement,” Rose said.

SMC came in running, forcing BYU to play catch up for the first 14:52 minutes. However, the turning point happened early on in the game at 5:48 minutes.

SMC guard Tommy Kuhse’s field goal would earn the Gaels another two points, but this would be the end of the team’s lead. SMC quickly fell into what would be a fatal scoring drought for three minutes, giving BYU the opportunity to surpass its rival.

“A lot of their guys are very talented and I thought we made them do things that they don’t normally do or they don’t want to do,” Haws said in response to SMC’s sudden regression.  “We forced them to their off hands and made them do challenging shots all night.”

With 3:30 minutes left in the first period, Childs slam dunked, finally putting the Cougars ahead 24-22. Nearly half of the points in the first period can be attributed to Childs, who ultimately scored 23 points in total.

Yoeli Childs slam dunks over Saint Mary’s forward, a shot that propelled BYU to take the lead on Jan. 23. (Emma Willes)

This momentum would propel the Cougars through the remainder of the game, maintaining their lead for the entirety of the second half, turning 10 turnovers into 17 points.

While the goal was to keep SMC feeling uncomfortable, the team never trailed more than 12 points behind the Cougars, forcing BYU to stay checked in.

“We stayed in it and hung in there,” Rose said. “I think our execution on the offensive end was as good as it’s been. You don’t play many games where you turn the ball over twice and have no turnovers at all in the second half.”

With four minutes left in the game, SMC managed to cut the lead to 61-57, the smallest gap since the end of the first period. In the end, the Cougars pulled through with a score of 71-66.

“I was saying when we were in the locker room, it was up there with beating Utah,” Childs said. “(SMC) is a really tough team to beat because they slow the ball down, they make great decisions, they’re really well coached, (and) they make it really hard for you on defense.”

Aside from Child’s impressive statistics, one of the team’s newest recruits, freshman forward Gavin Baxter, earned BYU 10 points during his 27:09 minutes of play time.

“I feel like Gavin is just getting better and better right now,” Haws said of Utah’s No. 5 recruit. “That wingspan is super long and he can challenge a lot of shots. We made them uncomfortable tonight and a lot of that was Gavin.”

At the end of the day, Rose felt the team’s confidence showed through its continued aggression and ability to drive the ball.

“The guys were determined to make this happen,” Rose said. “One of the most satisfying things as a coach is to have so many players making big plays, game-winning plays.”

The Cougars take a break from hitting the road as they face Gonzaga at home next Thursday, Jan. 31.

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