PROVO — The BYU men’s basketball team missed 11 free throws Thursday night in its West Coast Conference opener at Pacific.
But it was the foul line that helped them hold on for victory.
TJ Haws scored 24 points to go along with six assists, including four 3-pointers, to help BYU hold on at Pacific, 90-87 for the Cougars’ first road win of the season Thursday night at the Alex G. Spanos Center in Stockton, California.
Yoeli Childs added 13 points and 12 rebounds for the Cougars (10-7, 1-0 WCC). But the former Bingham High star fouled out with three minutes remaining of a one-point game. Jahshire Hardnett supplied 17 points off the bench for the Cougars, including a pair of free throws that gave BYU an 86-84 lead with 47 seconds left after the 54th foul call of the night.
Hardnett made eight of the Cougars’ 21 free throws for a road team that shot just 67 percent (23-of-34) from the line. Pacific was 31-of-38 from the foul line, but missed two critical foul shots in the game’s final minute.
“Everyone was just so excited to get a win, especially a win on the road," said BYU center Luke Worthington, who earned a rare start and finished with eight points, three rebounds and played the final moments with four fouls in relief of Childs. "There’s no better feeling. We needed this, and we got it done. Now we’re just excited to keep the ball rolling.”
Reigning WCC player of the week Ajare Sanni had 15 points for the Tigers, and Roberto Gallinat scored all but one of his 22 points in the second half for the Tigers. Jahil Tripp supplied 12 points and seven rebounds for Pacific (10-6, 0-1 WCC).
But in a game where both teams combined for 58 fouls, BYU advanced with a survive-and-advance grittiness against its 10-win hosts. Pacific outscored the Cougars 31-23 from the free-throw line, but BYU out-rebounded the Tigers 35-33, and out-shot Pacific 11-6 from 3-point range to snap a three-game losing streak and open WCC play with a 1-0 start in the fourth of five-straight road contests.
"This game was a gut-check for our guys; it’s been a while since we won a game," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "When you get to this point, it’s hard to keep them together. The whole purpose of playing is to win, and we’ve had a tough time doing that.
“All wins feel good. But in this one, I’ll remember how tough he guys hung in there and pulled one out.”
BYU made nine of its first 10 field goals, shot better than 60 percent in the first half, and drained nine 3-pointers to take a 49-37 lead at the break.
It was just the start the Cougars needed to hold on for the win, even as the Tigers finished the half on a 12-3 run.
BYU, which led by as much as 21 points in the first half, saw its advantage evaporate to three points, 64-61, on Gallinat’s cut to cap a 7-0 run with 9:07 left in the game. Three-straight makes later, and the Tigers tied the game on Kendall Small’s layup with 7:40 to go. If ever there was a time for a bucket, BYU needed one.
Hardnett delivered, driving to the rim for two just before the under-8 media timeout at the Spanos Center. Hardnett’s three-point play just a few moments later pushed the lead to three, 72-69.
But Pacific wouldn’t go away. Neither would Hardnett, who scored 10 of 11 points to keep the Cougars ahead, 78-76, with 3:45 to play. With Childs on the bench with foul trouble, Gallinat nailed his first 3-pointer to tie the game at 76-76 with 4:52 showing on the clock.
The Tigers took their first lead of the game, 79-78, on a throw by Cameron with 3:12 to go. Seven seconds later, Childs drew his fifth foul. But 13 seconds after that, Haws swished his fourth 3-pointer from NBA range to push the Cougars back in front, 81-79, for the final, frenetic finish.
"We can play better than this," Rose said. "But I don’t know if we can compete better than this; we competed really well."
BYU retook the lead on the next possession via Haws' 3-pointer, and Pacific never led again. But the Cougars never led by more than four in the last four minutes of regulation.
"There was a ton of energy from everyone. That’s what we were saying coming out of the tunnel; it’s one thing that we can completely control," Worthington said. “I think we did a great job at the beginning. Every team has occasional lulls, but it felt good.”
BYU continues conference play Saturday at 9 p.m. MT at Saint Mary's.