PROVO — For the first time this season, the Aggies were never in front.
In fact, the Cougars led by double digits for more than 31 minutes in a men’s basketball game Wednesday night in the Marriott Center. BYU ended a three-game skid with a convincing win against an in-state rival in front of 11,377 fans, 95-80.
“Credit to BYU,” Utah State head coach Craig Smith said. “I thought they played fantastic basketball. I can’t speak for them, but I thought that was their best game of the year. They played with a lot of confidence.”
It was the seventh straight setback for the Aggies (7-2) against the Cougars (6-4). USU has not won in Provo since 2004.
“I think there was a lot of emotion from our team tonight,” BYU head coach Dave Rose said. “The guys were ready from the start. It was a good atmosphere and I’m happy we won.”
Before heading south, the Aggies were warned about not letting the Cougars get on a roll shooting wise. BYU had struggled from beyond the 3-point line, making 28 percent through nine games. Wednesday was a different story.
The Cougars made five of their first eight long range shots and finished by making 11 of 24 for the game. On the other side, the Aggies struggled from long range, making 3 of 17.
“They’ve been struggling shooting the three consistently,” Smith said of the Cougars. “We were hoping tonight it wasn’t going to be the night they were going to break out of it because you just knew it was going to be a matter of time.”
But it was.
BYU also got a boost with the return of guard Nick Emery, who had missed the first nine games of the season due to an NCAA suspension. Emery checked in at the 13:46 mark of the first half, hit a quick 3-pointer and caused an Aggie turnover. Emery finished with 11 points on 4 of 6 shooting and played 19 minutes.
“I thought (Nick) Emery really gave them a shot in the arm, which you figure he would,” Smith said. “He hits his first shot of the game and got the fans into it.”
The Cougars were led by Yoeli Childs with 31 points, matching a season high. The junior also grabbed seven rebounds and came up with five steals.
“He (Childs) is a really good player,” USU center Neemias Queta said. “He made some tough shots today when we were on his face with our hand, but that is life. … We will try to play better defense on the post in the next game.”
Joining Childs and Emery in double-digit scoring was TJ Haws (20), Connor Harding (14), Jashire Hardnett (10).
Sam Merrill led the Aggies with 17 points, while Queta had 16 points, a game-best eight rebounds and blocked two shots. Dwayne Brown Jr. and John Knight III came off the bench to net 15 and 11 points, respectively.
The Cougars were not only hot from 3-point range, but from the field in general. They shot 55.9 percent, a season-high for an Aggie opponent. USU shot 48.3 percent from the field.
“We were awful in transition defense at the start,” Smith said. “... It’s a humbling game at times, and tonight was very humbling.”
BYU came out firing 3-pointers right out of the gate as Zac Seljaas got it started. The Cougars hit five shots from long range to build a double-digit lead less than eight minutes into the contest.
A three-point play sparked a 14-3 run by the Cougars. Harding capped it with a 3-pointer to give the hosts a 33-16 lead with 9:09 left in the opening half.
“We had 11 straight possessions where we didn’t get a ball reversal and 11 possessions later, we were down 17,” Smith said. “They made some plays, too. (TJ) Haws made some incredibly difficult shots.”
The Aggies did not score points on back-to-back possessions until the 5:47 mark of the first half. Queta made a spinning layup, and Crew Ainge grabbed a rebound and went coast-to-coast for a layup. Those buckets pulled USU within 42-25.
Two minutes later the Cougars had built their largest lead of the first half, 48-26. BYU took a 53-34 lead into the break.
USU tried to claw back to start the second half as the Aggies hit their first 3-pointer of the game when Brock Miller took a pass from Quinn Taylor and drained it. Merrill hit a trey, and the Aggies used a 12-5 surge to get within 58-46 with 15:27 to play.
The Cougars responded with a 17-8 stretch to build a 75-54 lead with 9:27 left.
The Aggies got within 12 again with 2:47 to play, but no closer.
“We showed some of our youth and inexperience tonight,” Smith said. “I wish I would’ve called more and should’ve used all four timeouts in that first half to help our guys out from that respect. But give them credit, they played fantastic.”
USU began Wednesday with an RPI and at No. 54, with a strength of schedule of 161. BYU began the day at No. 201, with a strength of schedule of 225. … The Aggies outrebounded the Cougars, 34-24, and have outrebounded every opponent this season. … USU had a season-low six assists, after coming in averaging 17.6 a game. … It was just the second time this season the Aggies trailed at halftime this season are 0-2 in those games. … Queta has blocked at least one shot in every game this year. … Merrill has scored in double figures in 14 straight game, dating back to last season. … The Cougars lead the all-time series against the Aggies 143-92. BYU is the most-played opponent for USU in school history.
There was a lot on the line Wednesday night, including personal pride.
Several Aggies and Cougars were teammates in high school and on AAU teams. Gaining some bragging rights is always welcome when playing a rival. USU head coach Craig Smith fully understands, even though he is new to the Beehive State.
“It is really unique because Sam (Merrill) and Abel (Porter) played AAU with some of these guys,” Smith said. “One of those guys was a high school teammate of Sam’s (Zac Seljaas). You have all these different dynamics. I saw it first-hand against Utah Valley when Crew Ainge’s cousin was on the other team. There is definitely another level of pride and these guys know each other inside out and backwards.
“... There is a lot of pride at stake within schools, within families, within friendships. There is bragging rights over the summer when they are hanging out and eating dinner or lunch together. It is such a unique thing and anytime you get into these rivalries, you see an in-state kid do something that they’ve never done before, in a positive way, where all of the sudden they rise to the occasion.”
There is no doubt Childs is deserving of this. The BYU forward scored a game-best 31 points, tying his season high. The junior made 11 of 18 shots and was a perfect 8 of 8 from the foul line. Childs also had a team-best seven rebounds, came up with a game-best five steals, blocked a shot and dished out an assist in 32 minutes of action.
AGGIE DUNK COUNT
The first and only dunk of the night for the Aggies came on the first bucket of the night for USU. Queta took a pass from Merrill and threw it down 80 seconds into the game.
The leaders remain the same with Queta in front with nine on the season, while Knight III is right behind with six dunks. Brown Jr. has four.
After a brief few days at home to practice, the Aggies are back on the road. They play the third of three straight away from the Spectrum on Saturday, taking on Weber State (5-3) at Vivint SmartHome Arena in Salt Lake City as part of the Beehive Classic. Tipoff against the Wildcats will be at 2:30 p.m. Weber State lost at Fresno State Wednesday night, 71-52.