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BYU overcomes sluggish first half to beat winless Texas Southern 73-52

PROVO — It wasn’t exactly the type of performance — at least in the first half — that BYU was looking for in its non-conference finale, just days before the Cougars tip off West Coast Conference play next Thursday.

Taking on a short-handed and winless Texas Southern team Saturday night at the Marriott Center, BYU looked sluggish, flat and sloppy early on.

But the Cougars made some adjustments and pulled away in the second half to earn a 73-52 victory over the Tigers before a crowd of 14,583.

Maybe this is the post-Utah game, post-final exam letdown that was expected last Wednesday night when BYU beat Idaho State.

“I can’t really pinpoint a reason for it. I thought mentally we were pretty ready to go. There are going to be nights like that,” said forward Yoeli Childs, who scored a game-high 19 points and pulled down eight rebounds. “Coach talked to us and said in the huddle, ‘There are going to be nights like this, where offensively things aren’t going for us.’ We knew if we stuck with it defensively that things would turn out all right and we’d start hitting shots, like we did in the second half.”

Childs made only 1 of 7 shots in the first half before hitting six field goals in the second half. The Cougars outscored the Tigers 42-24 over the final 20 minutes.

“I was shooting like crap and every single guy on my team had my back,” Childs said. “I love these dudes to death. They just came up and patted me on the back and said, ‘Keep shooting.’”

BYU improved to 11-2 and won its eighth game in a row, while Texas Southern, playing its 13th straight road game, fell to 0-13.

For Cougar coach Dave Rose, the game was a teaching moment that he hopes will help his team as it enters WCC play.

“I saw a lot of growth in our team with a group that was a little bit physically and mentally tired. It was a tough week and pretty tough eight days,” he said. “What usually comes easy for us didn’t come easy for us tonight. But our guys still hung in there and played together and we got help from our bench. We did a lot of things that can pay off down the road when you’re competing for a conference championship.”

The Tigers played Saturday with just eight players, and they were down a pair of starters, including star guard Trae Jefferson, who didn’t make the trip after his father was killed earlier this week. Jefferson is averaging 24 points per game.

Before the singing of the national anthem, a moment of silence was observed in honor of Jefferson’s father.

“It’s hard to talk about the game when you know that you’ve got somebody on their team dealing with the unthinkable,” Rose said.

“That’s definitely a hard situation. Our thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family,” said guard TJ Haws. “Whether they have all of their guys or just a few of their guys, hopefully our team prepares the exact same way. We were ready to guard him tonight but no matter who’s on the floor, hopefully we bring that same intensity and energy every game.”

In the first half, the Cougars sputtered, enduring a scoreless five-minute stretch. BYU trailed late in the first half before taking a 31-28 lead at halftime.

The Tigers were led by Donte Clark's 15 points. And 7-foot-2 center Trayvon Reed blocked four shots.

“He’s a heckuva player. He’s really long. He’s all of 7-2. He’s a big dude,” Childs said of Reed. “I was a little more aggressive in the second half, instead of going away from him just trying to go at him. That was huge for us to be able to make those adjustments.”

BYU shot 38 percent in the first half and 47 percent in the second. The Cougars took control in the second.

On the night, BYU outscored Texas Southern in the paint (32-8), off turnovers (18-3), on second-chance points (13-4), fast break points (12-0) and bench scoring (24-13).

“We had a lot of wide-open looks. We took good shots,” Rose said. “Then (Childs) got going and got some baskets and some confidence. That really helped changed the attitude of our group in the second half. And we kept guarding.”

Haws liked the way his team responded to adversity in the first half.

“When things aren’t going our way offensively, we need to lock down and play tough ‘D.’ You’ve got to win on nights when you’re not shooting the ball as well as you hoped,” he said. “We really got out in transition. We got a few stops and we started getting layups and getting to the (free-throw) line. That’s huge for this team, to get out in transition and make teams run with us.”

BYU hosts Portland Thursday in the WCC opener for both teams.