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BYU freshman Caleb Lohner ‘making a jump’ late in the season; scores career-high 19 points in dominating win at Pacific

Many wondered how BYU would perform on the road Thursday night at the Spanos Center. Well, the Cougars didn’t have to squeak past Pacific like they did back on Jan. 30 in Provo in a double-overtime win.

SHARE BYU freshman Caleb Lohner ‘making a jump’ late in the season; scores career-high 19 points in dominating win at Pacific
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In this Jan. 21, 2021 file photo, Brigham Young Cougars forward Caleb Lohner (33) drives past Portland Pilots forward Hayden Curtiss (15) at the Marriott Center in Provo.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Due in part to schedule interruptions related to COVID-19 involving other teams, it had been two weeks since BYU had won a game and it had been 10 days since the Cougars had played a game. 

Many wondered how BYU would perform on the road Thursday night at the Spanos Center. 

Well, let’s just say the Cougars didn’t have to squeak past Pacific like they did back on Jan. 30 in Provo in a double-overtime win. 

This time, freshman forward Caleb Lohner fell just one rebound shy of a double-double, scoring a career-high 19 points and pulling down nine boards, as BYU pulverized the Tigers 80-52. 

After falling by 11 points at home against No. 1 Gonzaga on Feb. 8, the Cougars spent their prolonged layoff trying to clean up their shortcomings, which were exposed by the Zags. And they looked ahead to more successful outings.

“This is exactly what I envisioned. These last 10 days of not playing, we’ve been working so hard,” Lohner told the BYU Radio Network. “A lot of teams in the country right now aren’t practicing as hard. There’s all these big gaps of not playing games. I think we really took advantage of that time. We just got better. I think it showed on the court tonight from everything — our offense, our defense, rebounding the ball, being in the right spots, making the simple play. I’m really proud of this team tonight.”

Lohner knocked down 6 of 8 shots from the floor, including 5 of 6 from 3-point territory. 

The 6-foot-8, 230-pound Dallas native started the season missing his first 11 3-pointers. Thursday, he looked a little like Jake Toolson or TJ Haws from the 3-point line.

“He’s a special young man. As he goes through his career, the whole country is going to get to know him,” coach Mark Pope told the CBS Sports Network about Lohner. “He’s obviously spectacular on the court. He’s learning and growing and so eager every single day. As a human being off the court, he’s actually 10 times more fascinating. I’m super proud of him tonight. We’ve been anticipating that he would make a jump here towards the end of the season and he is certainly doing that.”

As a team, the Cougars hit 13 of 27 3-pointers. Trevin Knell came off the bench to make 4 of 6 3-pointers and he finished with 15 points. Curiously, BYU shot 13 of 27 from 2-point range and 13 of 27 from 3-point territory. 

“Trevin was excellent tonight. He came in a little earlier in the rotation than normal because of (Gideon George’s) foul trouble and he responded really well,” Pope said. “I love Trev when he has a chip on his shoulder. That’s when he performs at his best.”

During one stretch midway through the second half, Lohner drilled three 3-pointers in a row, stretching BYU’s lead from 52-35 to 61-36. 

Lohner’s only field goal of the night that wasn’t a 3-pointer came with 13 seconds left in the first half. He was sprinting down the floor on a fast break when guard Brandon Averette tossed him an alley-oop that Lohner summarily hammered home to give the Cougars a 38-24 advantage. 

“That play in transition was awesome,” Pope said. “His athleticism is extraordinary. We see his athleticism over and over. He came up with a couple of incredible offensive rebounds that you just don’t see at any level in college basketball.”

In the previous matchup against Pacific, with the game tied at 64-apiece, Lohner missed two free throws with 3.2 seconds remaining in regulation. Not long after that game ended, he stayed at the Marriott Center, spending considerable time working on his free-throw shooting. 

It’s part of Lohner’s impressive work ethic. 

“He works so hard. He’s getting up countless shots before and after practice. He’s in the film room every day individually trying to learn,” Pope said. “You’ve got to keep putting it inside you until it becomes something over time that’s second nature. He had some second nature moments tonight. It was awesome. ... He gave you a little sense of who he can be. He’s pretty special.”

In Pacific’s loss to Loyola Marymount last Saturday, Jeremiah Bailey scored a career-high 28 points. Against BYU, he was held scoreless on 0 of 6 shooting. 

“He’s a special young man. As he goes through his career, the whole country is going to get to know him.” — BYU coach Mark Pope on Caleb Lohner

“The best thing (Lohner) did tonight was his defensive performance,” Pope said. “We talked about Jeremiah Bailey the whole last week. He’s put on a show the last two games. He’s been on fire. Caleb was fundamentally sound defensively the entire night. That’s not easy.”

“We were pretty mindful (of Bailey),” Lohner said. “That was a hot topic coming into this week’s practice and figuring out ways to stop him because he’s been rolling. We did a great job of that as a team.”

With the win, BYU improved to 16-5 overall and 7-3 in West Coast Conference play. Pacific dropped to 6-7 and 3-6. 

Pope said the key to the win was the way Averette and Alex Barcello orchestrated the offense. They combined to dish out 12 assists and they had only two turnovers. Barcello ended up with 15 points, five assists and three steals while Averette added 10 points and seven assists. 

Matt Haarms scored eight points, grabbed seven rebounds and set the tone early in the opening minutes of the contest. 

“Matt Haarms was incredible tonight,” Pope said. “His minutes were unbelievable. His physicality was off the charts to start the game.”

More than anything, Pope loved to see the energy and aggressiveness in his team after it endured a long period of not playing games. 

“I’m so incredibly proud. What they’ve done the last 10 days has been really hard,” he said. “There’s been a huge emphasis on three key areas where we felt we were falling short — physicality, communication and protecting the ball. The guys excelled in all three of those areas tonight against a really good team.”

“I’m proud of how we responded after that big gap of games,” Lohner said. “We started out and the whole game we kept coming at them. There wasn’t a break. I’m really proud of how we came out after not playing for a while.”

BYU visits Loyola Marymount Saturday.