"I don't know how long it's been since we've been back to play an NIT game in New York but it sure is great for this team," said BYU head coach Dave Rose. "Great for these guys. Maybe we were a little disappointed with this season but we've hung in there and we're doing well in this tournament. I think these guys are really playing their best and have got a second wind that's pushing them forward."
With the victory the Cougars improve to 24-11 on the season, while Southern Miss finishes its season with a 27-10 mark. BYU will next play on Tuesday, April 2, at 7 p.m. EDT on ESPN2 against Baylor. The Bears, who beat BYU earlier this season, 79-64, knocked off Providence in the NIT quarterfinals Wednesday night.
Senior Brock Zylstra was lights out early on with five threes in the first half to help the Cougars establish a strong shooting night. BYU finished 11 for 27 from behind the arc and 29 for 65 from the field, with four Cougars finishing in double digits. Zylstra earned his first career double-double, contributing a career-high 10 rebounds and a season-high 23 points, Matt Carlino added 15 points and nine assists, and Brandon Davies finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds for his 11th double-double this season.
"We're playing to have fun and playing to win - everything's good out there and flowing," said Carlino. "It feels good. It's almost like we're playing with a second wind right now - I don't feel drained. Everyone's playing tough and making the most of where we're at."
Haws has now scored 86 points through BYU's three NIT games to give him the BYU record for career points in NIT games, passing Roland Minson's previous record of 80 points set in the 1950-51 season.
The Cougars established their game in the early going at Reed Green Coliseum. Down 5-0 to start, BYU battled back to take the lead after going on an 11-0 run. Davies led the charge converting the old fashioned three-point play followed by a trey from Haws to take the 6-5 lead with 18:35 remaining. Zylstra added to the Cougars lead by hitting his first of five first-half threes to extend the Cougar lead to six at 11-5.
Both teams struggled through a scoring drought midway through the first half before Jerrold Brooks hit a three to bring Southern Miss within three of the Cougars. Zylstra caught fire for the Cougars with three-straight treys to put the Cougars up 20-10 at the 10:54 mark.
Davies fed Nate Austin with a nice pass in the paint for the easy layup to extend the Cougar lead to 26-17 with 7:22 remaining. On BYU’s next possession, Zylstra hit another three from the right arc while drawing the foul. He completed the four-point play to up BYU’s lead to 30-20.
Fueled by five-straight free throws, Southern Miss battled back with a 7-0 run to narrow BYU's lead to 30-27 at the 3:27 mark. Haws hit back-to-back jumpers to spark a 10-2 BYU run to close out the half. Carlino capped off the run hitting a long three before the buzzer to give BYU the 40-29 lead at the half.
Zylstra finished the first half with 18 points, going 5 of 7 from three and 6 of 8 from the field.
BYU’s momentum carried over into the second half with Austin hitting a 16-foot baseline jumper and Carlino feeding Haws for an easy layup to extend the Cougars lead to 48-31 with 17:22 remaining.
BYU continued to push its lead from behind the arc. Carlino and Haws both hit treys to extend the Cougars lead to 19 points at 54-35 with 15:24 remaining.
Daveon Boardingham hit a free throw to cut the Cougar lead to 15 with 12:02 remaining before Carlino hit his third trey of the game to push the Cougars lead to 60-42 at the 11:31 mark. Haws hit a jumper at the 9:21 mark to put the Cougars up 64-46.
Dwayne Davis hit a short mid-range floater to bring the Golden Eagles within 15 at the 5:16 mark, but the Cougars proved too much to handle down the stretch. Haws hit a cutting Davies to extend the Cougar lead to 74-58 with just under four minutes remaining in regulation to put the game out of reach.
"Moving ahead, I like where we're at," said Rose. "Nate (Austin) has played some of his best basketball in these last couple games and those other guys I talked about makes me confident. I'm excited for next year but right now we're just focusing on our next game, and making this season last."
BYU won the NIT championship in 1951 and 1966.