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BYU builds a big lead against USF and watches Dons rally, again — but this time the Cougars hold on for 90-76 victory

The Cougars grabbed a 25-point lead early in the second half only to watch the Dons cut that deficit to seven with 2:30 remaining. It was like deja vu all over again. But BYU, behind Yoeli Childs’ season high of 32 points, held on for a 90-76 victory over USF.

Brigham Young Cougars forward Yoeli Childs (23) hits a 3-pointer against San Francisco Dons center Jimbo Lull (5) in Provo on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020. BYU won 90-76.
Brigham Young Cougars forward Yoeli Childs (23) hits a 3-pointer against San Francisco Dons center Jimbo Lull (5) in Provo on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020. BYU won 90-76.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

PROVO — Something not-so-funny happened to BYU as it was on its way to avenging the curse of San Francisco Saturday night at the Marriott Center.

The Cougars built a 25-point lead early in the second half only to watch the Dons cut that deficit to seven with 2:30 remaining.

It was like deja vu all over again.

But BYU, behind Yoeli Childs’ season high of 32 points, held on for a 90-76 victory over USF.

“Honestly, it feels really good but I’ve got a little pit in my stomach about that comeback that they made,” Childs said, “because they did it twice in a row and won. We grew a lot from those past two but I feel like we want more. We’re obviously happy with the win but we’re definitely not satisfied.”

No doubt, it made fans a little nervous in the second half as USF cut the deficit to 82-75 late in the game.

And you couldn’t blame them.

The Cougars had squandered 14-point second-half leads against the Dons in the previous two matchups, including two weeks ago, when BYU fell 83-82 in San Francisco.

What was the difference this time when the Cougars watched that lead evaporate again?

“Just the will to say, ‘This is not happening again.’ The whole game we were talking about how these guys can come back, that’s what they do,” Childs said. “We’ve got to keep pushing. We had a little lapse for 4-6 minutes. We’ve just got to grow from that and get better.”

The Dons fought back in the second half, relying on Jimbo Lull, who finished with 22 points, and Khalil Shabazz, who scored 32 against BYU on Jan. 25, and scored 16 Saturday.

“We didn’t guard the 3-point line as well as we did in the first half,” said forward Dalton Nixon. “They have a lot of shooters and they were able to get to the basket whenever they wanted. All it takes is having a couple of guys out of position to have those defensive breakdowns.”

Coach Mark Pope called Saturday’s performance “a huge win for us,” adding, “I thought we played 25 minutes of high-level basketball on both ends of the floor. I’m greedy right now. I want us to play 40 minutes. I think this team can do it. We can do it against really good teams.”

BYU drilled 12 3-pointers, marking the 14th time this season the Cougars have made double-digit 3s — a new program record.

And BYU has now shot 50% or better in nine consecutive games, tying the longest single-season streak in school history. The record was originally set at the end of the 1988-89 season.

Jake Toolson and TJ Haws each scored 13 points and had seven assists against USF.

The Cougars improved to 19-7 overall and 8-3 in the West Coast Conference. The Dons dropped to 16-10, 5-6. BYU halted a three-game losing streak to USF, dating back to last season.

To start the game, San Francisco hit 5 of its first 6 field goals and seized an early 10-8 lead.

Haws gave BYU the lead again on a 3-pointer, kickstarting a 19-2 run that gave the Cougars a 27-12 advantage with 10:20 left in the first half.

With less than eight minutes remaining in the half, USF was 8 of 8 on 2-point shots and 0 of 8 from 3-point territory.

BYU finished the half on a 7-0 run to take a 44-25 lead into the locker room at intermission.

Childs scored 14 points and Haws added 13 in the first half and the Cougars scored 19 points off San Francisco turnovers.

BYU visits Loyola Marymount Thursday.

TIP-INS: BYU sophomore forward Gavin Baxter checked in with 4:16 left in the first half. The student section chanted his name. Baxter played for just 2:34 and recorded a rebound … Attendance was 14,757 … Cougars won their fourth straight game.