PROVO — The ails and travails of the BYU men’s basketball team — both on the court and off it — weren’t cured by a magic wand Thursday night in the Marriott Center.
There are still concerns: an inattention to defense, a 3-point shooting spell that can go cold at a moment’s notice, and a lack of physical play in the post, to name a few.
But a win is a win, and the Cougars will take it. It’s been a while, after all.
Yoeli Childs poured in 28 points, 12 rebounds and three assists, and McKay Cannon added 11 points and four assists to help BYU pull away from visiting Portland, 79-56, in the first men’s basketball game in the Marriott Center in 29 days.
Zac Seljaas added eight points for the Cougars (10-8, 2-1 WCC), and freshman Connor Harding supplied eight while Rylan Bergersen came off the bench for a seven-point lift.
“It’s been 29 days since we’ve been in here, a month away, and we missed our fans,” Seljaas said. “We missed playing in front of these great fans, the ROC, being in the Marriott Center, basically our home.
“We missed it, and it’s just great to be back.”
JoJo Walker had 10 points and three assists to lead Portland (7-10, 0-2 WCC), and Franklin Porter scored 14 for the Pilots, who have lost eight of their last 10 games.
Cannon, who started for the third-straight game, hit BYU’s third 3-pointer as part of an 18-0 run that gave BYU a 20-4 lead just over eight minutes into the game — and the Cougars were off and running.
Of course, playing Portland — the lowest-rated team in the conference that had lost seven of nine coming into Thursday night’s matchup — can do that for a lot of teams.
But the Cougars were in desperate need of a win, no matter who or how they could get it. And they did so not just with a big offensive game from Childs, but with defense, holding the Pilots to the fewest points allowed in the Marriott Center in 2018-19.
“One of the challenges coach (Dave Rose) gave us is to play hard together,” Childs said. “A lot of times when you are down, everyone tries to fix it themselves. But we did a good job of not just locking up my guy, but being in spots to help each other. That’s the only way to play good defense.”
BYU had lost four of five games during a road trip that took them away from Provo, and hadn’t won since the last time they set foot in the Marriott Center back on Dec. 12, an 85-66 victory over Big Sky foe Portland State.
In between were losses to UNLV, San Diego State, Mississippi State and Saint Mary’s, with a WCC-opening nail-biter at Pacific 90-87, sandwiched in the middle of the span.
No, winning games hasn’t come easy to this basketball team, which boasts two of the top players in the West Coast Conference in Childs and TJ Haws, but has struggled to find a consistent third option on offense or an identity on defense.
But Thursday night, the third option — and offensive spark — was Cannon. The Weber State transfer scored a season-high seven points in the first half, and brought a defensive intensity that held the Pilots to just six points in the first 10 minutes of the game.
“We were focused and dialed in,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “It was a much better effort as a group. This team plays with a much better edge and focus when we are ahead; it just is. We were ahead most of the night and that’s how we played.”
Yes, the Pilots aren’t good; they shot just 44 percent from the field and 34 percent from deep in the first 16 games of the season, with double-digit efforts from Marcus Shaver (14.6 ppg) and JoJo Walker (13.6 ppg).
But BYU held the duo scoreless from the field through the first 12 minutes until Shaver’s layup with 7:38 remaining in the half.
Walker and Shaver converted on 3-of-8 shots for a combined 10 points before the break, when BYU led 36-30 despite making just two of the Cougars’ final 10 field goals in the first half.
Still, BYU shot 44 percent from the field while limiting the Pilots to 8-of-24 in the first half, and Rylan Bergersen’s late trey beat the halftime buzzer to give the Cougars the six-point advantage.
“Rylan’s basket was really big to stop the bleeding and give us a two-possession lead going into the halftime,” Rose said. “Then the second half was very similar to how we played in the first 10 minutes of the game.”
BYU opened the half on a 7-0 run, then connected on three-straight field goals to propel the lead back to double digits, 51-39 with 15:35 to go.
The Pilots never seriously threatened again.
“A three-point game at halftime is a lot different than a six-point game at halftime,” Childs said. “It gave us a little juice going into halftime. It was a big shot by Ry.”