PROVO — For more than 35 minutes of game action on Thursday night against nothing-to-lose Santa Clara, No. 23 BYU wasn’t handling its first national ranking since 2011 all that well.
Seniors TJ Haws, Yoeli Childs and Jake Toolson — the Cougars’ Big Three in 2019-20 — had apparently seen enough.
They took over down the stretch and willed BYU to an 85-75 win in front of 12,757 nervous fans at the Marriott Center.
“We’ve talked a long time time about seniors being magic,” said BYU coach Mark Pope. “… What these seniors have accomplished is breathtaking.”
With Haws scoring 28 points, Childs adding 22 and Toolson 20, those three combined for 70 of BYU’s 85 points. It was the first time since a 102-92 win over San Francisco in 2016 when Chase Fischer had 25 points, Nick Emery had 21 and current Cougar Zac Seljaas had 20 that three Cougars have scored 20 or more points in the same game.
“We always want to have an aggressive mindset and we want each other to do what we do,” said Toolson, who added 10 rebounds. “We are always encouraging each other to share the ball, all of us, and I think that’s what happened tonight.”
Wasatch Academy product Josip Vrankic, who almost personally got Childs in foul trouble, led the Broncos with 28 points on 10 of 19 shooting and added 11 rebounds. But the Broncos’ big scorer didn’t get the help that Childs and company did.
“We had some wacky lineups out there tonight, trying to feel things out,” Pope said.
That’s because Childs was saddled with four fouls for the fourth time in five games. He still had his 42nd double-double, second-most in school history behind the 48 by Kresimir Cosic, but grabbed only one of his 11 rebounds in the second half.
He played less than 28 minutes and struggled again at the free-throw line, going 4 of 10. Haws was 12 for 12 at the line, while Toolson was 6 of 10.
“TJ made all of his (free throws), but me and Yo will be practicing those tomorrow,” Toolson said.
While the Big Three carried the team virtually the entire way, Pope credited the “other guys” for making the plays down the stretch that helped BYU avoid what would have been a major upset.
The Cougars, favored by 14 points, were tied with the visiting Broncos (18-10) at 66-66 when Vrankic made a bucket with five minutes, 40 seconds remaining.
Toolson made a jumper, then Haws added four straight free throws. Haws would account for BYU’s final 15 points with either a basket, a free throw or an assist.
“I thought we buckled down on defense, and that helped us,” Haws said of the last five minutes. “I thought we started moving the ball really well, getting open looks, making the extra pass, and then we knocked down shots.”
The shorter Cougars won the rebounding battle 41-32, with guard Alex Barcello getting seven boards to make up for just two points.
“It’s guys like that who win these games for us,” Pope said, also crediting Seljaas for coming up with three big defensive stops on Vrankic in the final minutes.
Amazingly, Childs was 2 for 4 from 3-point range, while Toolson and Haws were shut out from beyond the arc, and the only other Cougar to hit a triple was Kolby Lee. The Cougars, who lead the country in 3-point shooting percentage, were just 3 of 13 from downtown.
Only three 3-pointers “was a little less disheartening than the bunnies that we missed,” Pope said.