Skyler was terrific,” said . “He played with confidence, he played aggressive and he was on attack. Defensively, he brought a lot of energy and he made some clutch shots for us. – BYU coach Dave Rose, on Skyler Halford
PROVO — Somewhat lost amid the preseason BYU basketball buzz about the return of Kyle Collinsworth from injury, the possibility of Tyler Haws becoming the Cougars’ all-time leading scorer, and the influx of newcomers on the roster, was senior guard Skyler Halford.
In BYU’s season-opening 95-90 victory over Long Beach State Friday night before a crowd of 16,778 at the Marriott Center, Halford came up big off the bench, scoring 18 points and dishing out a career-high seven assists.
“Skyler was terrific,” said coach Dave Rose. “He played with confidence, he played aggressive and he was on attack. Defensively, he brought a lot of energy and he made some clutch shots for us.”
Guard Chase Fischer scored a collegiate career-high 17 points in his first official game as a Cougar. His previous high was 15 when he played at Wake Forest. Haws scored 21 points while Anson Winder added 12 and freshman Isaac Neilson had 10.
But hot-shooting Long Beach State (0-1), which drilled 13-of-22 3-pointers, kept the game close the whole way.
Just hours before tipoff, BYU (1-0) learned that 49er star guard Tyler Lamb had been suspended for the game. Lamb was the 49ers’ second-leading scorer last year, averaging 15.4 points per game. But Long Beach State played well in Lamb’s absence.
Guard Mike Caffey, the 49ers’ leading scorer from a year ago, poured in a game-high 26 points, including 18 in the second half.
Meanwhile, Bountiful High product McKay LaSalle, who replaced Lamb in the lineup, hit four of his 3-pointers in the first half and finished with 16 points.
“We knew he was a shooter,” Rose said of LaSalle. “He’s a guy that, if you let him get loose, he can knock down those shots.”
LaSalle drilled a 3 just before halftime to give Long Beach State a 47-46 advantage at intermission.
The Cougars started the second half by scoring seven consecutive points, but the 49ers made things interesting, with Caffey leading the way.
“You know they’re going to keep coming at you, a team like that, with Caffey and those senior guards,” Halford said. “They hit some big shots and they wouldn’t go away.”
The Cougars played a smaller lineup in the second half in order to keep up with the 49ers’ guards.
“We expected a team to come in here and really push the ball,” Rose said of Long Beach State. “We did a better job in the second half of getting back (on defense).”
In the second half, Halford, who backs up Collinsworth at point guard, scored seven points during a three-minute stretch, including a 3-pointer, that gave BYU its largest lead of the game, 77-67, with 4:57 remaining. As a team, the Cougars were 11-of-24 from 3-point territory.
Later, a 3-pointer by LaSalle with 1:47 left cut the 49ers' deficit to 86-80. About one minute after that, Fischer drilled one of his team-high four 3-pointers to give BYU a little breathing room.
Caffey answered with a three of his own.
Halford put the Cougars up, 91-83, with a pair of free throws with 42 seconds left. For good measure, Caffey buried his fourth 3-pointer with 18 seconds on the clock.
But BYU held on for the win.
“I’m really proud of the way our guys competed,” Rose said. “We stayed together and made enough plays to win … I think we can really build on this.”
BYU hosts Arkansas-Little Rock Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
NOTES: Collinsworth, whose playing time is being monitored by the coaching staff, logged 13 minutes, scoring six points to go along with two rebounds and five turnovers. ... Haws missed a free throw in the second half, snapping a streak of 31 consecutive made free throws dating back to last season. … BYU's 95 points are the most scored by the Cougars in a season-opener since scoring 100 in a win over Elon to open the 2000-01 season. … BYU shot 52 percent from the field. Long Beach State shot 54 percent from the floor.