Editor’s note: To help fill the sports void, The Universe is taking a look at some of the more memorable moments of the 2019-20 season across all BYU sports in a series of stories.
One of the most common pieces of advice basketball players receive during a shooting slump is to just keep shooting.
Coaches often implore their struggling players to retain a normal shooting motion and to convince themselves that the next shot they take is going in, no matter how many shots they missed prior.
BYU men’s basketball senior guard TJ Haws put such advice to the test in a dramatic road win over Houston on Nov. 15, 2019. After going 0-5 from the field in the first half and 3-7 in the second, Haws hit the shot that mattered most.
“Haws did a good job of finishing,” Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson told reporters after the game.
Haws’ buzzer-beating, game-winning fadeaway jumper to sink Houston was one of the most memorable moments of the Cougars’ 2019-20 campaign. BYU’s one-point win in its first road test of the season on national television gave the Cougars, who were still struggling to find their identity, confidence for the remainder of the season.
The Cougars were coming off a hard fought 68-63 win on Nov. 13 over a pesky Southern Utah team to move to 2-1 on the season. BYU’s lone loss thus far came in the game prior, when the Cougars squandered a late lead to a veteran San Diego State team. In BYU’s defense, the Aztecs did go on to finish the season with a 30-2 record and a No. 6 ranking in the AP Poll.
The Cougars basketball team hopped on a plane the day after its win over SUU to prep for an unusual Friday-night matchup against the Cougars of Houston. The two Cougar squads had faced off against each other the season prior, with Houston coming away with a decisive 76-62 win in the Marriott Center. That 2018-19 Houston team went on to make a run to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament and finished the year ranked No. 11 in the AP Poll.
Although Houston sported an entirely new starting-five lineup in November’s game against BYU, 2019 NCAA Coach of the Year Award semifinalist Kelvin Hampson and his young team were eager to prove they still belonged in the national spotlight.
First-year head coach Mark Pope and BYU were doing what they could to fill the void caused by senior forward Yoeli Child’s absence during his nine-game suspension. Dalton Nixon had played significant minutes thus far at the power forward spot and started the game against Houston along with Alex Barcello, Jake Toolson, Kolby Lee and Haws.
BYU jumped out to an early 20-12 advantage over Houston as the Cougars caught fire from three-point territory early on. Toolson shot a perfect 3-3 from behind the arc in the first half and Barcello went 2-3 as BYU held a 35-28 lead at the break. Haws, however, had yet to score a single point after going 0-5 from the field — including 0-4 from three — during the first 20 minutes.
Haws found a little bit of a rhythm in the second half, hitting a few timely jumpers to keep Houston at bay. BYU held a slight lead for most of the half until, with 2:32 left in the game, Houston tied things up at 67. Things were starting to appear eerily similar to the Cougars’ blown lead and loss to San Diego State less than a week before.
Toolson drained his fourth three-pointer of the game to remain perfect from deep and put BYU up 70-67. Houston answered with a 4-0 run to take a 71-70 advantage with 1:25 left, marking its first lead of the contest since the opening minutes.
After a Houston three-point attempt that would have sealed the game rimmed out with 22 seconds left, Toolson grabbed the rebound and dribbled the ball up the court. Although the Cougar offense appeared to be in scramble mode and unsure about which play to run for the potential game-winner, Pope elected not to use his final timeout.
“They should take (the timeout),” ESPNU analyst Tim Welsh said during the broadcast. “They’re not organized, Mark Pope should take a timeout now!”
Welsh’s words proved prophetic, as Toolson had the ball poked away seconds later by Houston guard Nate Hinton. Luck seemed to be on the BYU Cougars’ side that night, however, as Hinton immediately turned the ball back over after being called for a carrying violation with 5.1 seconds remaining.
Pope then decided to use his final timeout and drew up a play for Haws.
Following the timeout, Connor Harding inbounded the ball to Haws in the backcourt. Haws turned downhill with a head full of steam, driving slightly to his right. With one second showing on the clock, Haws picked up his dribble and, while fading away, took the shot over the outstretched arms of six-foot-five Houston guard Quentin Grimes.
“Haws came down on the drag-screen, pulls up and the ball hit the very front of the rim,” Pope said on the BYU Sports Network postgame show. “It hung in the air for a long time and then it was such an epic moment for our guys.”
Haws had plenty of confidence in taking the final shot despite shooting just 3-12 from the floor beforehand.
“I’ve worked on those shots my whole life,” Haws said after the game. “It was such a fun game and atmosphere to be in and to have it finish like that was incredible.”
Perhaps just as exciting as Haws’ shot was his reaction immediately after. Haws’ momentum brought him directly in front of BYU radio analyst and former Cougar hoopster Mark Durrant. As soon as the shot went in, Haws raised his arms and turned around, only to see Durrant doing the same thing.
The two embraced as the rest of the team came rushing over.
“All time broadcasting moment for me there,” Durrant said in a tweet. “I retire.”
Recently retired BYU head coach and former Houston basketball player Dave Rose was also on hand to celebrate with the team.
“It’s really special to have former head coach Dave Rose here, with his banners that are hung up on the walls, sitting in the front row,” Pope said. “It’s hard to write it better than that. These guys work so hard and sacrifice so much so they can have a moment like that, that they won’t ever forget.”
Sometimes in basketball, all it takes for a struggling shooter to regain their confidence is to see just one of their shots go through the net.
For Haws on Nov. 15, all it took was 8,000 screaming Houston fans and five seconds left on the clock with the game on the line.