Eric Mika. Is. Back.
After serving a two-year LDS mission in Italy, the boisterous BYU forward led the Cougars to 82–73 win in the season opener at the Marriott Center Monday night.
“His ability to make positive plays and then how relentless he is — you can throw him the ball and get something good most of the time,” said BYU coach Dave Rose. “I think that his aggressiveness was so good to see tonight. He was getting to the free-throw line and he was making free throws. That was making him even more confident to make him more aggressive. It was pretty physical in there at that high post area, but he just kept competing.”
At 6-foot-10, the BYU sophomore muscled his way to the basket to lead the team in scoring with 26 points and 18 rebounds. While Mika stood out with his double-double, Rose said BYU’s basketball team emphasized team play in the home opener.
“We had some great individual plays, but I really believe that for the most part it was really a team effort where guys shared the ball and looked for each other,” Rose said.
“We had some great individual plays, but I really believe that for the most part it was really a team effort where guys shared the ball and looked for each other.” —Dave Rose, BYU basketball coach
And Mika agrees that his scoring success can be attributed to the offense the team has established in practice — which gave him multiple opportunities to tally up the points.
“That’s how are offense is rolling right now, that’s how it’s designed; we play inside-out,” Mika said. “We have guys in every position that can score the ball at will. If we can right from the get-go be moving it from side to side, then we’re going to do well.”
The inside-out game worked for the Lone Peak Three. Sophomore Nick Emery had a near double-double himself with 15 points and 9 rebounds while freshman TJ Haws added 20 points after a shaky start.
Despite making some “young, inexperienced mistakes,” Rose said he was happy with his team’s showing against an “aggressive, physical, skilled team” from the East Coast.
“The importance of competing on every single possession was kind of a dog fight on both ends, and I think we did a good job of staying on the attack,” Rose said.
The aggressive game was a sore spot for the visiting Tigers as they got trapped early in foul trouble. In the first half, the Tigers had 12 team fouls and surpassed that in the second half with 17 fouls. BYU capitalized on the fouls by shooting 73.2 percent from the free-throw line, earning 30 points off free throws versus the Tigers 9 free-throw points.
“Another key of the game for us was to attack together,” Mika said. “That’s what we did in the first half; they were in foul trouble pretty quick. I think that’s definitely helpful for us because then we have that mentality to keep attacking. On the other hand, it’s tough for a team to be in foul trouble right from the get-go, so it was good for us, bad for them. I thought we did a good job of executing that attack.”
Starting off the season 1–0 is a huge confidence boost for the team, according to Emery.
“To get that win, just for us, that’s a huge confident boost. It shows the toughness that we learned over the summer and hopefully we can take that into further games.” —Nick Emery, BYU sophomore
“Princeton was a really good team,” Emery said. “I think that’s one of the best teams I’ve seen come through the Marriott Center. They’re tough, they’re resilient and they don’t ever give up. And they play really good basketball. To get that win, just for us, that’s a huge confident boost. It shows the toughness that we learned over the summer and hopefully we can take that into further games.”
BYU has a packed schedule over the next week. They first take on Coppin State on Thursday night at 7 p.m. in the Marriott Center before playing on Saturday against Coastal Carolina at home. Then the team will head down to Las Vegas to play in the tournament at MGM Grand Garden Arena. While the schedule is strenuous, Emery says the team is excited.
“We’ve gone three or four weeks of just straight practice playing each other,” Emery said. “You kind of get sick of it. It’s tough, but to finally have games now is another motivation. We’ve got to take one game at a time. We can’t look past a team. This is a great team. I’m just grateful I can play with these guys. This is going to be a fun year.”