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PROVO — The BYU men's basketball team earned a rare home loss just three games into the 2017-18 season to Texas-Arlington.
But the Cougars have also learned about their team — including a strong addition to recently returned missionary Dalton Nixon — as they prepare to host Niagara (1-2) in the second game of the Barclay's Classic at 7 p.m. MT Tuesday in the Marriott Center.
Nixon has come off the bench in all three of the Cougars' regular-season games, but is tied for fourth on the team with 9.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. He's the most productive bench player at BYU in his 20 minutes per game, the second-most off the bench behind point guard Jahshire Hardnett (23.3 minutes).
"Dalt’s a fighter, a good competitor, and we’ve got to find ways to get him more minutes," BYU coach Dave Rose said after Saturday's 89-75 loss to the Mavericks. "He’s a guy who is coming along quick. He’s good."
The "secret sauce" in Nixon's game isn't anything flashy, either. The 6-foot-7, 215-pound forward from Orem returned from a two-year mission for the LDS Church in Boston in the spring, and he immediately jumped into the Cougars' rotation as a sophomore despite sitting out for two seasons.
He's simply been able to provide the work ethic to earn minutes on the court. Combine that with a father, Kevin, who played for BYU from 1991-93, and it leads to significant success — like a career-high 15 points and eight rebounds in 19 minutes against UT Arlington.
"I just tried to keep working hard," Nixon said. "It’s a long game, there’s time left on the clock and I just work until the end."
Next on the list is a Purple Eagles team whose less-than-stellar early record belies the talent on the team. Niagara opened the season with a 77-75 road win over Northeastern power St. Bonaventure before back-to-back losses at Minnesota and UMass prior to the trip to Provo.
"They’ve got themselves a squad," Rose said. "They play a little bit faster than (UT Arlington), and we’ll see a lot of the same things. Maybe they aren’t as long, and we can get to the basket a little better. But we’re going to have to jump on this thing and get a nice plan."
Elijah Bryant, the Cougars' leading scorer at 21.3 points per game, injured his foot in Saturday night's loss to UT Arlington.
The junior was sporting a protective boot during part of Monday's practice, though coaches said the measure was precautionary and he will be evaluated prior to Tuesday's tipoff to determine if he can play.
"I don’t think it is a major thing," BYU assistant coach Tim LaComb told the Salt Lake Tribune after practice Monday. "I think it is just a matter of being sore and bothersome."
Next stop: New York
Tuesday's game is BYU's second as part of the Barclay's Center Classic, and the second one to be played in Provo.
The Cougars will play Alabama at 12:30 p.m. MT at the Steinberg Wellness Center in Brooklyn, New York, before finishing the tournament at 12:30 p.m. MT Saturday against UMass in the Barclay's Center, home of the NBA's Brooklyn Nets.
Both games will be streamed live on Stadium College Basketball's Facebook page and broadcast on KSL Newsradio.