HOUSTON -- Giving what head coach Steve Cleveland called his team's best defensive effort of the season, BYU defeated Rice Saturday at the Compaq Center in Houston, 59-49. The Cougars improved to 4-2 with the win in front of 9,123 fans, several hundred of which were Cougar faithful, including former BYU All-American quarterback Gifford Nielsen. The Owls dropped to 5-2 with the loss.
"It was our best defensive effort of the young season -- we really competed for 40 minutes," Cleveland said. "We prepared well and we executed. They executed their offense well and moved the ball around very effectively but we were able to hustle. We didn't make a lot of errors defensively."
Rice pressed with its quicker guard line to open the game, but thanks to point guard Matt Montague's savvy the Owls' press resulted in no Cougar turnovers. BYU did overthrow at least three passes in its half court offense and didn't take the lead until freshman center Derek Dawes turned around the momentum. With 11:20 left on the scoreboard clock, the 6-foot-11 Dawes blocked a Mike Wilks shot, recovered it in the corner, then hustled down the court as the trailer and hit a field goal from just inside the three-point line to tie the game at 15-all.
Eric Nielsen's jumper off the left angle gave BYU a 17-15 advantage. A trio of old fashion three-point plays came when Wesley, Lyday and Cooper converted free throws after making a shot and being fouled. Lyday and Wesley also hit treys in the first half as BYU took a 33-29 lead into the break.
The Cougars increased the lead to 10 points at 39-29 with the 17:58 remaining when Wesley hit his second three-point bomb of the game, but the Owls slowly fought back into the game. Owl forward Shawn Tyndell brought Rice within three points at 39-36 after a power dunk in traffic that had him crashing down on BYU's Nathan Cooper. Rice was able to pull even with BYU at 47-47 with six minutes left after a Wilks field goal.
After scoring four straight points to go up 51-47, BYU had another possession but turned the ball over with the shot clock expiring. The Owls could not take advantage, however, as BYU's defense also forced a shot clock violation on Rice's end of the court. Wesley made several strong defensive plays in the final minute to help ensure the Cougar win.
After missing the front end of a one-and-one at the line, Wesley raced to the other end to block a Rice layup attempt. He blocked another attempted Owl lay-in with eight ticks left on the game clock. A Lyday spinning layup in traffic in the final minute gave BYU some comfort as they stretched the final margin to 10 points at 59-49.
"Terrell (Lyday) did a nice job -- it's not easy with their guards who are quick and athletic," Cleveland said. "We don't win this game unless we have Terrell guarding Wilks all game. And Nate (Cooper) made every hustle play guarding a much bigger man."
BYU shot 47.8 percent for the game while holding Rice to 30.6 percent shooting. Wesley led BYU with a game-high 21 points on 8-11 shooting, including 2-2 from behind the three-point arc.
"After watching film this week I saw that I was rushing my shot," explained Wesley, who entered the game in a bit of a shooting slump at 38 percent. "I was lucky they were falling tonight, but we had a lot of contributors."
Lyday and Cooper added 10 points apiece and Travis Hansen eight for BYU while Wilks led three Owls in double figures with a team-best 18 points. Tyndell contributed 13 and Erik Cooper 10 in the loss.
Cleveland was also happy with his team's offensive effort and praised his veterans as well as newcomers Dawes and Hansen for their play.
"We played with more purpose on the offensive end," Cleveland said. "This is the first time this year that Dawes and Hansen have contributed to a win. Terrell made a big basket in the last minute and Mekeli made a big jumper. This was a good one for our confidence. This game had the intensity of a conference game."