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Returning to Utah, Caleb Lohner leads BYU’s physicality in win over the Runnin’ Utes

Utah Utes guard Rollie Worster (25) drives on Brigham Young Cougars forward Caleb Lohner (33) in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.
Utah Utes guard Rollie Worster (25) drives on Brigham Young Cougars forward Caleb Lohner (33) in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

In his first game at the Huntsman Center after spurning Utah for BYU during the summer of 2020, forward Caleb Lohner helped the Cougars win the annual rivalry game.

Lohner recorded a double-double with 10 points and a game-high 12 rebounds in No. 18 BYU’s 75-64 victory Saturday night as the Cougars handed the Utes their first loss of the season.

Utah fans let the sophomore, who originally signed with the Utes before having a change of heart and signing with BYU, hear their displeasure when he touched the ball.

But Lohner took it all in stride, and as he walked off the court with final seconds slipping off the clock, he waved to the Utah student section.

“It was super fun for me. I had tons of fun. I have tons of respect for Utah and their program,” he said.

“BYU ended up being a place for me but again, tons of respect for this team. Very well-coached team. I’m just proud of my guys that we got.”

Cougars coach Mark Pope loved Lohner’s effort.

“I couldn’t be more proud of Caleb. His road is not easy. He’s such a diligent worker. He has so much ability to his game that it almost makes it harder because there’s so much he can do,” Pope said.

“For him to roll in here and have a double-double and be so dominating on the glass and his decision-making was so good. He’s got to guard every different guy on the floor and he’s an elite-level defender, so I was super proud and happy for him.”

Guard Te’Jon Lucas scored a season-high 18 points for the second consecutive game as he hit 8 of 10 from the floor, including a pair of 3-pointers.

Guard Alex Barcello added 17, including 11 of 12 from the free-throw line. Forward Gavin Baxter scored 14 on 7 of 10 shooting and added two blocks.

The Cougars (6-0) controlled the glass and out-rebounded the Utes 45-28 and outscored Utah (5-1) in the paint, 48-28.

Pope said his team focused on rebounding as it entered the game.

“They’re the sixth-ranked rebounding team, percentage-wise, in the country,” he said of the Utes. “We knew that coming in.

“It’s been the first thing on our board every single game for us because we’ve faced great rebounding team after great rebounding team … It hurts them not to have Marco Anthony (Utah’s leading rebounder).”

BYU struggled at times in the first half, shooting just 35%, including 1 of 9 from 3-point range.

The Cougars also had trouble defending Utah’s 7-foot center Branden Carlson, who finished with 17 points and six rebounds.

“He’s a great basketball player. Super long, and he block shots,” Lohner said of Carlson. “He’s a real threat inside, so it was fun to be able to kind of get in there and body with some of these guys.”

It took a while for BYU to play at its offensive pace. The Cougars didn’t get their first lead until early in the second half, 31-29.

Later, they went on an 18-6 run, including a stretch of nine straight points that put them up 52-41 with 9:16 remaining.

“This is our first true road game. You walk into the gym and there’s a different energy. We’ve played in front of way bigger crowds in our own arena but the energy is different,” Pope said.

“The guys didn’t respond to that energy great. … Everything is pulling you away from pace. We’ll get better and better dealing with that. We had way better pace in the second half than we did in the first. That’s guys sprinting to ball screens, coming off ball screens. All those things are so crucial to the way we play.”

In the second half, BYU shot an efficient 56%.

“I think we just stuck to what we do. Well, in the second half we defended a lot better and kept rebounding, things kind of started to go our way,” Lohner said of his team’s second-half performance.

“I think offensively in the second half, we kind of had more pace a little bit quicker on the offensive (end), and I think in the first half, there were certain instances where we didn’t really get something that we recognize in our offense, so we’re just kind of running around. I think guys kind of got their second wind and second half. I’m proud of this team. It was a hell of a win.”

Two years ago against Utah, BYU squandered a 16-point second-half lead and lost in overtime. Saturday, once the Cougars seized the lead, they never let go.

Lohner added that his team just kept pounding the Utes.

“I think our physicality started to beat down a little bit on them and we had some good shots,” he said.

Pope enjoyed the spirited atmosphere at the Huntsman Center.

“These rivalry games are great. They’re super emotional and they’re always tough,” he said. “You can throw the rankings and the stats and everything else out the window. They’re just always tough.”

BYU visits Utah Valley University on Wednesday.