HONOLULU — The BYU men’s basketball team may not have accomplished its goal of winning the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic, but it will be leaving the island of Oahu on the highest of notes in its 84-76 victory over Northern Iowa Friday afternoon.
Chase Fischer, coming off the highest scoring output of the tournament against New Mexico two days earlier, was the inspirational leader, once again leading a balanced Cougar attack as five players scored in double figures.
Although his 26 points didn’t duplicate his recording-setting outing of nine threes and 41 points in his previous game, it didn’t need to.
His shots from deep came when his team needed them most during a decisive 8-0 run in the second half.
“I was just trying to find some space,” said Fischer. “They were sticking to me pretty good the whole game, so I just found a little space and knocked them down.”
The team missed the game’s first seven shots before senior center Nate Austin’s lay-in on a nifty dish from Kyle Davis finally broke the ice at 2-0 at the 17:55 mark. A layup by senior point guard Kyle Collinsworth gave the Cougars a lead they would never relinquish.
After missing his first two 3-point attempts, Fischer’s first of four treys in the game gave BYU a 17-12 advantage with 12:36 to play in the first half.
Freshman Jordan Chatman’s three, his only attempted shot of the game, capped a 17-0 run that increased BYU’s lead to 27-12 at the 7:40 mark.
A three by UNI’s Matt Bohannon put the score at 28-26 in favor of BYU, but the Cougars quickly reclaimed their 10-point lead, 38-28, on a Fischer lay-in to end the first stanza.
The Panthers' lack of a post presence and reliance on outside shots began to show as BYU coach Dave Rose countered with a small ball lineup of Fischer, Zac Seljaas and freshman Nick Emery.
“The natural reaction for our big guys is to always suck in to the basket,” said Rose. “We needed these guys out to challenge those 3-point shots.
“On defense, we did a good job getting to their shooters. All in all, I thought we played hard enough and well enough and we deserved to win the game, and that’s what happened.”
A telling sign of UNI’s weaknesses was down low. With 7:40 left in the first half, Collinsworth had nine rebounds to the Panthers' team total of 10. BYU had a 22-11 rebounding advantage heading into halftime.
The Cougar floor general downplayed his effort on the glass.
“I just try to grab them as much as I can, being aggressive on the offensive and defensive end.”
A three by INU’s Paul Jesperson brought them within one point of BYU at 45-44 after the Cougars' 15-point lead disintegrate to one.
Fischer’s 3-pointer following an Austin offensive rebound and assist gave BYU some breathing room. Fischer completed a personal 8-0 run with a corner three in front of the team bench, and he added a layup to bring the score to 65-54 with 6:46 left.
“I was just trying to find space,” said Fischer. “They were sticking to me pretty good.”
Bohannon, who led UNI with 21 points, proved to be the peskiest Panther in the second half as he singlehandedly kept Northern Iowa in the contest, aided by a UNI 5-10 spree from the 3-point arc. UNI remained within striking distance, narrowing the gap to six during a nine-minute stretch.
UNI rallied to pull within three late but couldn’t pull any closer on Jeremy Morgan's failed 3-point attempt with 27 ticks left.
“We made big shots when we needed to. When we needed points, we made them,” said Collinsworth, who hauled in a career high 17 rebounds to go along with a solid 12 points, six assists and three steals. “It was a combination of timely buckets and timely shots.”
Rose, who once again started Austin, went exclusively to junior forward Jamal Aytes as his main frontcourt reserve. Corbin Kaufusi, who was healthy to play, was on the bench for the entire contest.
“I thought the last eight minutes of the game might have been the best eight minutes of any game as far as executing and doing what we want to do,” Rose said.
Freshman guard Seljaas chipped in 12 points and continued his efficiency at long range, making good on all three of his attempts. Along with being a perfect 5 for 5 in the tournament, Seljaas has made a resounding 19 of his 25 3-point shots over the last five games.
In a contrast of negative trends on the season, BYU went 19-21 from the charity stripe, including making all 14 free throws in the second half.
“We got to the free-throw line and we made free throws late in the game. We executed and got the shots we wanted. That shows a sign of a team that is improved and matured and hopefully we are ready for what’s coming,” said Rose.