Stop me if you’ve heard this before: BYU gets out to a double-digit lead against San Francisco — and loses it.
That exact scenario happened to the Cougars in two of the past three losses to the Dons, including a devastating one-point defeat at San Francisco on Jan. 25. On Saturday in the Marriott Center, BYU watched as a 25-point halftime lead was trimmed to seven with 2:30 to play.
“I got a little pit in my stomach about the comeback they made,” BYU senior forward Yoeli Childs said. “They did it twice in a row against us and won. But we grew a lot from those past two games.”
The 14,757 fans who came to the Marriott Center couldn’t unclench until Childs and Jake Toolson connected on back-to-back 3-pointers, allowing the Cougars to finally put USF and those dreadful memories to rest. Childs scored 32 points — one off his career high — and BYU shot better than 50 percent for the ninth straight game to tie a school record in a 90-76 victory.
“I’m really happy for my guys,” Cougar coach Mark Pope said. “San Francisco is a good team, an explosive team. It’s a huge win for us. The Marriott Center was unbelievable and I’m grateful for all the people who came out. That’s what makes it so special.
“We played 25 minutes of extraordinary basketball. We played at a high level on both ends of the floor. But I’m greedy. Right now I want us to play 40 minutes like that and I think this team can do that. It was remarkable to see what we did for 25 minutes, but those other 15 minutes are really important.”
Those first 25 minutes of the game were a sight to behold.
BYU turned in a 19-2 run in the first half, with six points from Childs and a pair of 3-pointers by T.J. Haws, for a 27-12 lead at the 10:22 mark. Connor Harding’s triple gave the Cougars a 17-point advantage at 35-18 but a driving layup by Jeremee Bouyea cut the deficit to 12 at 37-25 with three minutes left.
BYU closed the half on a 7-0 run. After drawing a charge on the defensive end, Haws took on a couple of USF defenders and pulled up for a 3-pointer that hit nothing but net. The Cougars led 44-25 at the break. Childs (14 points) and Haws (13) combined for 27 points in the first half and Toolson, despite scoring just two points, dished out six assists.
Toolson and Childs rained in back-to-back 3-pointers for a 25-point lead (55-30) with 15:30 to play. The Dons opted to press full court and pressure the Cougars, which turned the game into a ragged affair on both ends. But USF turned up the pace and converted into their transition offense, cutting the BYU lead to 10, 78-68, on a Khalil Shabazz 3-pointer with 3:52 remaining. The Dons closed to within seven, 82-75, with 2:30 to play but triples from Childs and Toolson got BYU back up by double digits.
“We missed some of the details,” BYU senior forward Dalton Nixon said. “Defensively we didn’t guard the 3-point line as well as we did in the first half. Our help defense was good in the first half but that broke down. It’s easy to get one or two guys out of position. Throughout the whole second half we were thinking, “this is not happening again. They’ve beaten us three straight times.’ We did a really good job getting rebounds and executing down the stretch.”
Childs took advantage of single coverage and made the Dons pay all night, making 14 of 23 from the field including a pair of 3-pointers. Toolson scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half and added a team-high seven assists.
Sophomore forward Gavin Baxter, who missed the first 25 games of the season after suffering a torn labrum in October, saw his first action. He played 2:34 in the first half and totaled one rebound, one turnover and one foul.
BYU shot 56% (35-of-63) from the field, which ties the 1988-89 team for longest streak of games at 50% of better (nine). The Cougars were also good from distance (12-of-25) for 48%.
Jimbo Lull led San Francisco (5-6 WCC, 16-10 overall) with 22 points on 8-of-11 from the field. The Dons actually shot well from inside the arc (22-of-33, 67%) but were a dismal 5-of-24 (21%) from the 3-point line.
USF guards Shabazz and Bouyee, who lit up the Cougars for 55 points on 20-of-25 from the field in San Francisco last month, combined for 24 points on 7-of-17 from the field (and 2-of-9 from three) on Saturday.
BYU (8-3, 19-7) travels to Loyola Marymount and San Diego this week.