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With Collinsworth hampered, Seljaas, Davis lead BYU to NIT semifinals in NYC

PROVO — For two days, the only triple-double BYU senior guard Kyle Collinsworth was worried about involved his triple-digit fever, multiple IVs and hours of sleep deprivation.

Battling a severe case of the flu and playing for the final time in the Marriott Center in the National Invitation Tournament quarterfinals Tuesday night against Creighton, Collinsworth didn’t start for the first time since his freshman year.

While Collinsworth ended up giving a gutty effort off the bench, fortunately for the Cougars, others compensated for what he couldn’t provide.

Making his first career start in place of Collinsworth, freshman Zac Seljaas poured in a team-high 19 points and Kyle Davis added 18 as No. 2 seed BYU defeated the fourth-seeded Bluejays, 88-82, in front of a crowd of 15,525.

“KC obviously is our best player, he’s our leader and he’s the player of the year. We all kind of rallied around him,” Davis said. “We knew Kyle wouldn’t be able to be like he is normally so we decided to do it for him. He has done so much for us all season. It was a good opportunity for us to pay him back a little bit. He actually played really well considering how sick he was. He still showed up.”

With the victory, the Cougars advanced to the NIT semifinals March 29 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. They will face No. 1 seed Valparaiso, which defeated a West Coast Conference team, Saint Mary’s, Tuesday night.

“We’re very excited,” Seljaas said. “Most of us have never been (to New York City) so that was kind of our motivation. We’re excited to go play in the Final Four of the NIT.”

BYU coach Dave Rose was happy to see his players step up for their ailing team captain.

“Kyle (Collinsworth) has picked this team up so many times over the course of the year and his career,” Rose said. “To have these other guys be able to pick him up tonight, it says a lot about the group, their camaraderie, their chemistry and the character of our guys.”

Seljaas knocked down 5 of 6 shots — all 3-point attempts — and grabbed seven rebounds for the Cougars in 37 minutes of play.

“With Kyle out, I had to step up. It’s kind of a big shoe to fill to start for Kyle,” Seljaas said. “It was a time to get in, get going and then have Kyle come in and help as much as he can.”

Things didn’t begin well for the Cougars as they fell behind by 12 in the first half. They looked out of sync without Collinsworth.

“It was an interesting start to the game without Kyle in the lineup,” Rose said. “We were pretty stagnant. (Creighton) did a good job of controlling the tempo. We had to play from behind but we kind of found our rhythm late in the first half.”

Seljaas drained three 3-pointers over the final eight minutes of the first half to lead the surge. BYU took its first lead, 38-36, with 25 seconds left in the first half on a dunk by Davis. The Cougars went into the locker room at halftime with a 38-37 edge.

“I think we were trying to find our groove without Kyle out there,” Davis said. “They’re a good defensive team. But once we seemed to catch our stride, get into our offense, we started rolling.”

Also, the Cougars switched to a zone defense, which paid dividends.

“The zone really saved us,” Rose said. “They were really carving us up in man-to-man.”

Thanks to the zone, BYU was able to neutralize Creighton point guard Maurice Watson, who was dishing the ball to Cole Huff (18 points, 11 rebounds) and 7-foot center Geoffrey Groselle (22 points, eight rebounds).

An exhausted Collinsworth checked out of the game with about 15 minutes left and BYU clinging to a 48-45 lead. With him on the bench, the Cougars surged against the Bluejays, building a 15-point advantage at one point.

Creighton battled back to within five, 82-77, with 27 seconds remaining. BYU hit its final six free throws to seal the win.

Nick Emery scored 17 points and dished out five assists while playing point guard for most of the game and Chase Fischer scord 15 points. Collinsworth played 20 minutes, scored 10 points, grabbed five boards and had four assists.

“It’s a testament to how much of a leader and a fighter he is,” Davis said of Collinsworth. “He is really sick and he played great.”

And Collinsworth's teammates played great, too. And now, BYU's season continues in New York City.