SALT LAKE CITY — BYU had Utah beat on Wednesday at the Huntsman Center.
Yoeli Childs was unstoppable, the Cougars were drilling shots all over the floor and led by as many as 16 points in the second half.
But little things — fouls, turnovers, cramps — started to push momentum the other way and the home team caught fire, taking its first lead of the game in the overtime and holding on for a wildly entertaining 102-95 victory.
Childs was amazing in his 2019-20 debut, scoring 29 points on 12 of 16 shooting in 25 minutes of play. But he started to cramp up in the second half and left the game for good with five minutes to go in regulation. The foul count — 29-17 against the Cougars — put Utah at the line way too often in the second half and not even a terrific game from Jake Toolson (27 points, nine rebounds and six assists) could overcome those uneven numbers.
“It was just a fight,” Toolson said “It was pretty frustrating and disappointing. In the second half they just got going on some runs. We weren’t getting stops, we weren’t getting back on defense and down the stretch we just couldn’t make enough plays.”
BYU starters Childs, TJ Haws (fouls) and Dalton Nixon (fouls) were on the bench for the end of regulation and the overtime and the Cougars couldn’t hold on.
“We had a tough time in transition in the second half,” BYU coach Mark Pope said. “We had a tough time guarding the free throw line in the second half and switching turned out to be really problematic for us. There was a whole plethora of problems.”
Freshman Rylan Jones was fantastic for Utah, scoring a career-high 25 points and some big baskets at the end of regulation and in overtime. Timmy Allen led the Utes (6-2) with 27 points, mostly on drives to the basket, and Mikael Jantunen scored 18 off the bench.
Utah was 24 of 31 at the foul line in the game — 20 of 23 in the second half and overtime — while BYU finished just 13 of 17.
BYU weathered several Utah runs to maintain the lead but the Utes pulled even at 81 with two minutes remaining. Toolson hit a big 3-pointer for an 84-81 Cougars lead with 1:16 to play. Jones missed a wide-open look under the basket and fouled Alex Barcello with 28.6 seconds to play and the BYU guard made both free throws for an 86-83 edge. On the other end of the floor the Cougar defense somehow lost Jones, Utah’s best 3-point shooter, and the freshman drained long triple to tie the game at 86 with 21.8 to play.
The Cougars set up Barcello on a clear out as the clock spun down but he missed badly on a fall away shot to force the overtime.
Barcello tied the game at 88 in the extra session with 3:38 to play but the Utes went on a 6-0 run with Jones driving and scoring twice for a 94-88 advantage. BYU couldn’t get any closer than four points the rest of the way.
“It was hard,” Pope said. “We couldn’t guard the free throw line tonight. We just couldn’t do it and that made the game really complicated for us. We’ve just got to get way better, we know that. Our deal is to get better every single say and that’s what we focus on.”
Pope took Childs out of the game after just six minutes, perhaps worried that the white-hot forward might melt right through the Huntsman Center floor. Childs scored 13 points just over five minutes into the game on 3 of 3 from the 3-point line.
The Cougars made 8 of their first 10 shots and rushed out to a 20-8 lead on a Childs dunk at the 14:43 mark. BYU led by as many as 16 points, 31-15, but settled for a 41-33 lead at the half.
Childs finished the first half with 18 points — tying his career high for a half set two years ago against Saint Mary’s in the WCC Tournament — on 7 of 9 from the field and added seven rebounds.
Childs kept abusing the Utah defense in the second half, scoring the Cougars first 11 points to get the visitors out to a 54-40 lead at the 16:02 mark. But then Childs had to go to the sideline because of cramping, and when he returned, he wasn’t as effective before finally leaving the game for good.
BYU (6-4) will meet former Mountain West Conference rival UNLV on Saturday at Vivint Smart Home Arena at 1 p.m. MT.