BYU men’s basketball demolished the University of Portland 96-70 on Saturday, Jan. 11, in their first of two matchups of the season. The Cougars got up early on the Pilots and maintained the lead throughout the game.
“It was a great start, and it started with the defensive end,” forward Dalton Nixon said. “We knew coming into this game that Portland is a really good team. They got up on the Zags early on, and so we really wanted to set the tone early. Defensively, we were great and got out and made shots. And that team fought back, but we responded really well throughout the night.”
Senior Zac Seljaas had his best game since his freshman year, with 21 points off the bench, shooting five of five from three. TJ Haws also added 13 points, with three rebounds and a career-high of 14 assists.
Despite his outstanding night, Seljaas attributed his success to his teammates.
“It was just kinda going in, I guess,” Seljaas said. “But most of all, because of TJ and Jake (Toolson) and the way that they were passing the ball and getting everyone open shots and the way our team was moving the ball and playing offensively. And just like the start of the game, we ended the game defensively really well.”
The Cougars started the scoring with a jumper from Haws. BYU went on to score 15 points before Portland scored its first bucket. Included in the fifteen-point run were back-to-back threes from Dalton Nixon, followed by a slam dunk also from Nixon.
Portland answered back with a jumper, before Jake responded with a three, making the score 18-2. The Cougars then held off the Pilots from scoring for a few minutes until a score from Portland’s JoJo Walker moved the deficit to 24-4. This is the biggest lead BYU has had in a first half of a game this season.
“Offensively, we have to play with a lot of pace and a lot of force. Our cuts and our screens really open up those opportunities for Jake and TJ to have those assists,” Seljaas said. “I thought all night everyone that was on the floor played together and that’s another huge key is being on the same page.”
Halfway through the first half, Portland started to bounce back with the help of Jacob Tryon and Isaiah White, who scored a combined 16 of the team’s points in the first half. In essentially eight minutes, Portland scored 21 points to bring the score to 33-23, with BYU in the lead.
With back-to-back jumpers from Alex Barcello and a three from Connor Harding, BYU increased the lead to 40-23 with five minutes left in the half. The Cougars continued to score with two three’s, one from Haws and another freshman Trevin Knell. BYU went into halftime with a lead of 51-30.
In the second half, Portland started hot with two jumpers, a three and a layup, bringing the score 53-39. Another three from Portland’s Walker forced BYU head coach Mark Pope to call a timeout at 62-52.
BYU was inconsistent at times throughout the game, but Seljaas was proud at how his team handled the pressure.
“We all battle frustration during the game, and sometimes the other team goes on a run and that’s when you have to get together as a team and be able to come together and just keep fighting,” Seljaas said. “It’s hard to be 100% the whole time for all 40 minutes, and so you’ve just got to play as hard as you can for all of those 40 minutes and that’s what we did. We fought through that frustration, and just came together and we battled.”
Out of the timeout, Seljaas sunk a three followed by a layup from Barcello, progressing BYU to 67-57. After a floater from Haws and two missed Portland opportunities, BYU’s Toolson hit a three, forcing Portland to also call a timeout.
The timeout didn’t help Portland as BYU came down the court and scored with a put-back from Seljaas at 74-57 with seven minutes to play.
A minute later, Haws shot again, sinking a three with six minutes left. Portland traveled down the court but had another missed opportunity that BYU took advantage of with another three from Seljaas, bring the score 82-59.
A few minutes later, Barcello made a three with three minutes left that sealed the deal for the Cougars.
Overall, the Cougars shot 52.1% from the field and 50.0% from three, dominating the Pilots who shot 47.4% from the field and 37.5% from three. BYU also dominated the defensive side of the ball, out-rebounding Portland 38 to 19.
Pope was also impressed with the Cougars start.
“I was incredibly proud of the start,” said Pope. “You have this one day off, and if we had won the Saint Mary’s game or lost… our biggest job was to help our guys rehabilitate their hearts and souls to be ready to come compete.”
Impressively, the Cougars did all of this without Yoeli Childs, the leading scorer on the team, averaging 20.9 points a game. Childs also sat out the Saint Mary’s game due to a finger injury sustained in practice last Tuesday. Coach Pope is unsure when he’ll be back.
“He can bend his finger a little bit more. We’re still waiting for his wound to close … With these joints, infection is a huge concern, and so the closing of that wound is really important,” said Pope. “So hopefully, he’ll be back sooner rather than later, but in the meantime, these guys will come battle like they have.”
BYU is now 2-1 in conference play, with wins versus Loyola Marymount and Portland and a loss to Saint Mary’s. The Cougars are 13-5 overall.
The Cougars’ next game is versus San Diego in the Marriott Center on Thursday, Jan. 16.