PROVO — In the last couple of games for BYU, the hoop has been looking as big as Utah Lake in the first half.
Last Saturday in an 84-50 thumping of Santa Clara, the Cougars shot 79 percent (19 of 24) in the first half. Thursday, BYU continued its torrid first-half shooting against Loyola Marymount, knocking down 67 percent of its shots (16 of 24) and hitting 5 of its first 6 3-pointers as the Cougars led by as many as 22 over the opening 20 minutes.
Guard Elijah Bryant, who led BYU with a game-high 29 points — tying his season high — scored 20 in the first half, including 4 of 6 from distance.
"This guy had a monster night," said forward Yoeli Childs, who finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks, referring to Bryant.
But the Lions made things interesting, and sloppy, over the final 20 minutes by forcing 10 turnovers over the first 11 minutes of the second half with effective front court pressure. They cut the deficit to a little as nine points with six minutes remaining.
In the end, BYU put LMU away with a 82-67 victory before a crowd of 12,109 at the Marriott Center.
“The first half was really, really good as far as our execution is concerned," said coach Dave Rose. “In the second half (LMU) came out almost with a whole different mindset and game plan. It got really physical. We turned the ball over … That’s what they’re really good at. That’s what got us in the second half. We were able to make some big plays down the stretch.”
It marked the Cougars’ 10th consecutive victory over the Lions, dating back to 2014.
BYU improved to 16-4 overall and 5-2 in West Coast Conference play. LMU fell to 6-12 and 1-6.
Guards TJ Haws and Jahshire Hardnett each chipped in 11 for the Cougars.
LMU’s Steven Haney scored a team-high 16 points, including 5 of 9 from 3-point territory.
The Lions scored five straight points to open the second half to slice BYU’s 17-point halftime lead to 46-34 before the Cougars went on a 7-0 run to go up 53-34, thanks to a Zac Seljaas 3-pointer and a Seljaas layup.
But the Lions kept fighting and they forced eight turnovers, thanks to pressure in the frontcourt, over the first 10 minutes of the second half. LMU went on a 12-2 run that made the score 62-50 with 10:28 remaining. Then with 8:39 left, LMU whittled the deficit down to 10, 64-54, after yet another turnover.
The Lions got to within nine, 70-61, at the 6:11 mark.
But BYU took control again, going ahead by 17 points with four minutes left, 78-61.
Bryant hit 7 of 9 shots from the field in the first half and 4 of 6 from long distance as he finished the half with 20 points, tying his highest scoring half of the season.
Childs was 3 of 4 from the floor, including a nifty reverse layup in traffic after an offensive rebound with 2:55 left in the half.
BYU’s first four field goals of the game came on 3-pointers — from Hardnett, two from Bryant, and one from Haws.
The Cougars sprinted to a 21-8 advantage after another Bryant 3-pointer and they extended that lead to as many as 22 points in the first half, 41-19, after an 8-0 run.
"We focus on getting as many stops as we can the first four minutes," Bryant said. "When we do that, it gets us going."
LMU cut into the deficit after back-to-back 3-pointers by Haney, who ended the half 4 of 5 from 3-point range and 12 points.
The Cougars got a bit of a scare with 5:50 left in the first half when Hardnett went down hard after a collision and was attended to on the court. He returned a few minutes later and he started the second half.
BYU led at halftime, 46-29, as Bryant fittingly ended the half by hitting a 3-pointer with 34 seconds remaining.
The Cougars host San Diego Saturday.