It had been a while since BYU had experienced a bonafide blowout victory.
And the Cougars needed it.
Come to think of it, it had been a while since BYU won a home game, too. Both happened Thursday night at the Marriott Center against lowly Loyola Marymount.
Granted, LMU entered the night on a nine-game losing streak. But for a change, the Cougars won a game comfortably, 79-59.
While in terms of the season overall right now, things are precarious, there were no anxious moments Thursday.
It was quite a departure from two weeks ago against the Lions in Los Angeles, where BYU had to rally from a 17-point second-half deficit before pulling out a one-point win in overtime.
Thursday marked BYU’s first home win since it defeated Portland, 78-65, back on Jan. 22. It’s the last time it won a game by double digits. What followed was an unforeseen four-game losing streak.
For the past month, the Cougars, whose NCAA Tournament hopes are hanging by a thread, have been living on the edge.
BYU (20-9, 8-6) played with an edge Thursday, jumping out to a fast start and maintaining a sense of urgency for most of the game.
“I’m proud of the way we keep responding. We keep coming back,” said forward Caleb Lohner, who recorded his second career double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds. “It’s no mystery that this game and the following game are huge games. This is kind of life-or-death for us when it comes to the (NCAA Tournament). We need to keep making statements and keep playing our best basketball.”
It was a modest statement against one of the West Coast Conference’s worst teams, but it was a statement nonetheless, particularly on the defensive end.
“The best thing about this game was to hold them to 60 (points),” said coach Mark Pope.
“For 30 minutes, we probably had real defensive urgency. This team, if we’re at 100% all-in on the defensive end, all five guys, we have a chance to be a terrific, high-level defensive team. A lot of teams have that potential. But a lot of teams, if they dip to 99%, they’re still really good defensively. We’re not. If we dip to 99%, we spring leaks everywhere. Over the course of this season, we got punched in the face with injuries and some circumstances. It took a team that was like, every possession engaged defensively. We’ve got knocked back and we’ve tried to find ourselves. We became a 99% defensive energy team. We’re working our way back.”
The Cougars limited LMU to 39% shooting from the floor, won the rebounding battle 39-23, and they were clicking offensively as well.
Guard Te’Jon Lucas scored a team-high 14 points and dished out six assists. Gideon George and Fousseyni Traore both scored 12 points and Alex Barcello had nine points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
BYU dominated inside, outscoring LMU in the paint 52-12.
“It was really important for us. We milked the post early in this game with Caleb and Fouss,” Pope said. “These guys were really solid. It’s a big piece of who we are. It’s important working in the post, it’s important to get downhill, it’s important (to have) cutters. We were good in all three areas tonight.”
All eight Cougars that played scored. Another encouraging sign for BYU — it had 23 assists on 33 made baskets.
“We shared the ball really well,” Lohner said. “We made some cuts, people were making plays, taking charges, making steals. In transition we were pretty good tonight … It feels good and it feels right. We all recognize that it’s good basketball. Even the guys that aren’t scoring see all of it. This is how we’re supposed to play.”
While Seneca Knight was sidelined for the Cougars Thursday due to a thumb injury, LMU was without Keli Leaupepe, who scored 26 points against BYU two weeks ago.
“Not having Leaupepe was a big difference for them,” Pope said. “They’re missing a big piece for them.”
BYU raced to a double-digit lead four minutes into the game on a 3-pointer by Spencer Johnson as part of a 13-0 run.
“I’m proud of the way we keep responding. We keep coming back.” — BYU forward Caleb Lohner
Lohner scored six of BYU’s first 10 points and the Cougars hit 8 of their first 12 shots. LMU made just 1 of its first 9 shots.
“Our defense in the first half was incredible, especially those first 10 minutes that we played,” Lohner said.
BYU led by as many as 18 points in the first half, 41-23.
Lohner recorded 11 points and six rebounds at intermission while George added 10 points and four boards.
The Cougars led 45-28 at halftime, and went up by as many as 25 in the second half.
For the game, BYU shot 54% from the field, and outscored the Lions 14-0 in second-chance points.
“We’ve got to find a way to get to 37, 38 or 40 minutes of full urgency if we want to have a chance to perform in this tournament,” Pope said.
BYU hosts Pepperdine Saturday on Senior Night in the regular-season finale. The WCC Tournament tips off next week in Las Vegas.
TIP-INS: Announced attendance was 12,559 … Former BYU coach Dave Rose was among those on hand … With Knight sidelined, BYU used its 10th different starting lineup Thursday … Johnson and Atiki Ally Atiki both went 3 of 3 from the field … BYU has won at least 20 games in each of Pope’s three seasons at the helm.