PROVO — After stepping aside for one game to allow for a career night from freshman Gavin Baxter, BYU forward Yoeli Childs was back in the limelight Thursday night.
Sure, it was against Portland, a team that has yet to win a game in the West Coast Conference.
But Yoeli? Well, he’s back.
Childs finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds, and TJ Haws added 22 points to help the Cougars cruise to an 83-48 rout over Portland in the Chiles Center in Portland.
Zac Seljaas scored 12 points for the Cougars (15-10, 7-3 WCC), and Nick Emery — who made his first start of the year — supplied eight points, four rebounds and five assists.
Marcus Shaver Jr. had nine points and four rebounds to lead Portland (7-18, 0-10 WCC), which shot just 31.9 percent from the field.
Perhaps hard to believe for a team that finished shooting 48 percent from the field, but BYU wasn’t making all of the shots early. But even when points seemed scarce, the Cougars’ defense kept them in the game.
“We weren’t shooting the ball great to start, but our defense kept us in the game. We kept making plays defensively and our shots came,” Haws told KSL Newsradio after the game. “If your defense can do that, it’s big. We know our shots are going to come around, but it’s on the defensive end that we win games.”
The rout was so big that BYU emptied the bench and played all 14 healthy players on the roster. Taylor Maughan scored his first two points in a Cougar uniform, hitting a pair of free throws in the final moments as the last three minutes.
Maughan, who grew up in Fullerton, California, played one season at BYU-Hawaii before the university dropped the athletic department. The 6-foot-4 forward averaged 4.5 points while shooting 39 percent from the field for the Division II Seasiders.
“We got some really good minutes off the bench,” BYU coach Dave Rose told KSL Newsradio. “When you’re on the road in February … it’s really nice when you’ve got your top 8-9 guys on the bench and everyone else is playing. You’re ready to get prepared for the next game.”
Emery made his first start since returning from a one-year dismissal from the university a year ago amid an NCAA investigation. It was also the first time Emery started a game with freshman Baxter, who had a career-high 25 points and 10 rebounds in his first career start last Saturday against LMU.
Against the Pilots, who BYU beat 79-65 in the first home game of conference play, the Cougars saw plenty of new faces in increased playing time.
Then there were the old-timers.
After Baxter’s breakout game that also coincided with a season-low output from Childs, the big man who had just been named a Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year candidate, poured in eight points and nine rebounds early in helping the Cougars cruise to a 21-10 just under 12 minutes into the game.
“It was an honor just to be in the company of a lot of great players,” Childs said of the nomination. “To see your name next to Karl Malone, knowing how great he is, is awesome.
“I’m just grateful for the opportunities I have.”
Portland used an 8-2 run to pull within five on Crishawn Clark’s trey, but the Pilots could get no closer for the remainder of the half. The Cougars responded with a 9-0 run, pushing the lead back to double-digits, 32-18, on Zac Seljaas’ 3-pointer with 3:20 to go until halftime.
The junior sharpshooter made a pair of first-half treys to lift the Cougars to a 40-21 lead into the break.
The 21 points scored by Portland are the fewest allowed by BYU in a half this season.
“We really looked into locking in on defense, and that’s what leads to our offense,” Childs told ESPN after the game. “I think we’re pretty good in the half court and we try to get a kill — three stops in a row.”
The Cougars didn’t let up in the second half, either.
BYU powered to a 14-3 spurt out of the gates, holding the Pilots without a field goal until Jacob Tryon drained a three with 13:29 remaining. BYU responded with Baxter’s dunk on the next possession, giving the road team a 56-27 advantage as they cruised to the finish behind a balanced effort and multiple minutes from the whole roster.
The Cougars forced 20 turnovers, including 11 steals, and converted 31 points off those turnovers.
“It was a really important game for us,” Rose said. “I thought this thing would be interesting, to see how we played this game. If we got off to a great start offensively, I knew we could keep the energy defensively. But it happened exactly the other way.
“Defensively, it was as good of a 40 minutes as we played all year.”