PROVO, Utah — These trips out west aren't working out too well for Illinois State's basketball team.
For the second straight week, the Redbirds ventured outside their time zone and got outclassed. Brigham Young built a 22-point halftime lead and cruised past ISU, 80-68, at the Marriott Center on Wednesday night before a crowd of 12,250.
“We had a great shoot-around, a lot of energy and had a good look to us in warmups,” said ISU coach Dan Muller. “Once we couldn't score, I thought we stopped competing. We had a number of guys who looked like they were in slow motion on both ends. We took some really bad shots early and that carried over to the defensive end.”
ISU (4-5), which lost at No. 22-ranked Nevada by 30 a week ago, went 0 of 15 from 3-point range and shot 23.3 percent from the field in the first half as Brigham Young zoomed to a 39-17 lead.
Freshman Taylor Bruninga finally ended the Redbirds' 3-point drought when he sank three straight shots from outside the arc, including a four-point play, early in the second half. That helped ISU cut the lead to 55-36 with 13:56 left.
But the Cougars (7-2) took advantage of numerous ISU defensive breakdowns to attack the rim and get easy baskets inside as the lead grew as much as 25 at 61-36.
The Redbirds finally found their offensive rhythm and got within 73-60 on Milik Yarbrough's basket with 5:31 left. But ISU couldn't get closer until Phil Fayne's jumper with six seconds left for the final margin.
“I had to get myself going and play harder,” said Yarbrough. “Coach told me no one can guard me in the country. I don't know if I played timid. I don't know what you want to call it. In the second half, I came out with a burst and confidence and found people on the floor and played my game … but it was too late at the time.”
Bruninga paced ISU with a season-high 20 points, all in the second half, and Fayne followed with 19 points. Yarbrough had 13 points, nine rebounds and five assists, while Evans scored 14 points. ISU shot 44.3 percent from the field and went 7 of 24 outside the arc.
“Taylor was the one guy, even in the first half when he missed a couple shots, he's the one guy who had a good look to him and played well most of the game,” said Muller. “Taylor was easily our best player and not just because he made some 3s. Those were big, but he rebounded and fought.”
Bruninga sank 5 of 6 outside the arc in the second half and also grabbed five rebounds. After making 5 of 8 shots in the season opener at Florida Gulf Coast, including 4 of 7 from distance, Bruninga was 7 of 35 overall and 5 of 28 outside the arc in the next seven-and-a-half games.
“Coach always tells me if the shot is there to shoot it,” said Bruninga. “No matter what happened in the first half, I was going to come out in the second half and if my shot was there I was going to take it. Once I hit the first one I got into my groove. That's really a boost to my confidence to be able to shoot like that.”
BYU was led by sophomore guard TJ Haws with a game-high 20 points, including 15 in the first half. Guard Elijah Bryant nearly had a triple double with 17 points, nine rebounds and nine assists, while forward Yoeli Childs scored 17 points with seven rebounds. The Cougars made 53.4 percent of their field goal attempts, including 57.1 percent in the second half, and went 7 of 24 from 3-point range.
When Evans drove inside and scored, the Redbirds trailed 11-6 with about 13 minutes left in the first half despite making just three of their first 12 field goal attempts.
Then the bottom really fell out.
ISU went almost eight minutes without a basket, missing nine shots and committing five turnovers. Haws, who has struggled with his 3-point shot this season, made 3 of 6 while Bryant went 3 of 4 in the first half.
“I thought we were playing so bad offensively if we get a couple baskets we'll be OK,” said Muller. “We couldn't press them if we wanted to because we couldn't make a basket. Our zone was slow. Guys we count on a lot were not fighting through some adversity there.”
Bryant's 3-pointer ended a 17-1 BYU run that pushed the lead to 28-7 with 6:46 left. The Redbirds finally broke their drought when Evans hit a runner with 5:18 left.
However, ISU's shooting woes didn't stop. Yarbrough bulled his way inside for a basket to trim the deficit to 33-15. But the Cougars closed on a 6-2 run, with Luke Worthington banking in a free throw, for a 22-point lead at the break.
“I just told the team at halftime we live and die by our shot. That's we do. We make shots and make 3s,” said Yarbrough. “Don't get our head down and keep playing. Taylor came out with a lot of confidence and kept shooting the ball.”
It was ISU's lowest halftime total since scoring 17 points against Indiana State in a 2016 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament quarterfinal loss.
ISU returns to Redbird Arena to face Murray State, the Ohio Valley Conference favorite, at 3 p.m. Saturday.