Caleb Lohner’s decision-making was on point during comeback victory against LBSU
Big man finished with a career-high 20 points, grabbed four rebounds and dished out two assists in comeback victory
For BYU’s Caleb Lohner, it’s been a season featuring plenty of highs and lows.
The sophomore forward came up big in the Cougars’ 93-72 victory in the National Invitation Tournament first-round game against Long Beach State Wednesday night at the Marriott Center.
Lohner finished with a career-high 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting from the field — he buried his only 3-point attempt — and he also grabbed four rebounds and had two assists.
National Invitation Tournament
No. 6 Northern Iowa (20-11)
at No. 2 BYU (23-10)
Saturday, 7 p.m. MDT
Radio: BYU Radio/1160 AM
With the win, BYU (23-10) advanced to a second-round meeting against Northern Iowa Saturday (7 p.m. MDT, ESPN+) at the Marriott Center. The Panthers knocked off No. 3 Saint Louis 80-68.
Entering Wednesday night, Lohner was averaging 6.5 points, shooting 39.5% from the field and 17% from 3-point range on the season.
Lohner’s rebounding has been strong all season, averaging 6.3 per game.
For coach Mark Pope, the way Lohner played Wednesday was gratifying.
“This Caleb Lohner, this guy’s got an unbelievable future. It’s not coming super fast and it’s not super easy,” he said. “But he made unbelievable progress tonight. What a spectacular game in a really hard decision-making game. There’s still a lot to be learned and a lot to be gained. It’s fun to win.”
What impressed Pope the most about Lohner wasn’t his 20 points. It was his decision-making against an LBSU team that thrives on full-court pressure.
“In the second half, Caleb gets a post catch on the right block. The double team comes immediately and they’re suffocating him. He protects the ball, unbelievable poise, splits it, makes the read,” Pope said. “Guys cross on rotation and he finds (Spencer Johnson) wide open in the corner.
“You think about Caleb’s 20 points but those 20 points came because of plays like that. That’s what that kind of pressuring defense opens for you if you’re tough enough to make the play. We finally found a rhythm and we were able to do that.”
What did Lohner think about his performance?
“Just playing. Making the right decisions and letting the game come to me and not forcing anything. All the shots and offensive decisions I made were kind of slow except a few,” he said. “I was in the right spots, set some good screens and cut.
“Because of the way this team plays, the switches and the confusion with them, I was able to utilize the mismatches under the basket. Great passes from Atiki (Ally Atiki) and Fousseyni (Traore) and Te’Jon (Lucas). I was on attack and shots started to go in.”
After a somewhat sluggish first half, the Cougars went on a memorable 21-0 run in the second half to take control of the game against LBSU.
Lohner said it took a while for his team to embrace playing in the NIT.
“Going into the game, it’s no surprise, we wanted to be in the NCAA Tournament. This game, in a lot of our minds, emotionally, wasn’t as important because we didn’t expect to be hare,” he said. “It took us a sec. You know what, we’re still playing basketball. This is so fun to get to be together as a team and enjoy this moment. Let’s just go play and keep winning games and make the most of this opportunity that we have. We don’t have control over what could have happened.”
Pope said his players are competitors and they want to win.
“We have to love the game. Loving the game shouldn’t be hard. I’m telling you, Caleb Lohner, the day after the season is over, he’s going to be on the phone, calling everybody he knows, trying to get a pickup game at the rec. We don’t want to lose sight of how much we love this game.” — BYU coach Mark Pope
“I think we’re approaching this a little different. We have to love the game. Loving the game shouldn’t be hard. I’m telling you, Caleb Lohner, the day after the season is over, he’s going to be on the phone, calling everybody he knows, trying to get a pickup game at the rec. We don’t want to lose sight of how much we love this game.”
Against LBSU, the Cougars struggled in the first half against the press. But BYU made some adjustments in the second half.
Alex Barcello had just three points in the first half but finished with 14, including four 3-pointers.
“It was a result of our guys being more confident on attack,” Pope said. “We weren’t feeling aggressive. We made an adjustment where we put Alex on the receiving end to be the attacking guy, not the decision-making guy in the backcourt.
“It was the whole team feeling more comfortable being on attack. If you play that way, you can’t take Alex Barcello out of the game if we respond by being on attack. He’s a dangerous man.”
Pope was also pleased with Ally Atiki, who finished with eight points and a team-high nine rebounds.
“It’s fun to watch Atiki. He was terrific with a complicated defensive matchup for him. He’s guarding shooters all night,” Pope said. “This was not an easy game for him. It’s a decision-making game, it’s a spread-the-floor defensive game. For us, we had to guard space. I thought he was awesome.”