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‘This is the core of who we are’: BYU’s depth leads to another dominating road victory

In an 88-71 victory at Loyola Marymount Saturday at Gersten Pavilion, the Cougars won their third consecutive road game, reaching a total margin of victory of 90 points across those games, an average of 30 points per contest

BYU basketball players huddle before a game against the Portland Pilots. The Cougars beat the Loyola Marymount Lions 88-71 on the road Saturday.
Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo

At this stage of the college basketball season, teams solidify their true identity as they head into the all-important month of March.

Some numbers reveal a lot about this BYU basketball team.

In an 88-71 victory at Loyola Marymount Saturday afternoon at Gersten Pavilion in Los Angeles, which is a margin that doesn’t accurately reflect the Cougars’ dominance, BYU won its third consecutive road game. The total margin of victory across those three outings was 90, an average of 30 points per contest.

Saturday’s game was never close and BYU led by as many as 32 points (75-43) in the second half before a late 15-0 run by LMU made the final score look closer than it was in the Cougars’ final true road game of the season.

“We should have won by 30 tonight. No doubt in my mind,” said senior Matt Haarms. “We should have sustained that lead. We have all the tools out there. We got sped up and we fouled a lot. We have stuff to work on.”

That aside, the Cougars once again showed off their vast depth. Saturday marked the sixth straight game that has featured a different leading scorer. At LMU, it was Haarms’ turn. The 7-foot-3 native of the Netherlands finished with 21 points, two rebounds, three assists and five blocked shots.

Depth has been a key for BYU as it attempts to earn its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2015.

“So many guys making significant contributions,” said coach Mark Pope. “The guys are being patient with the process and just believing enough that what we can do together is really special. It’s way more special than what any of our guys can do individually. … The incredible depth of reward that they’re getting for sacrificing for their team, they’re getting paid off individually 100 times over. … This is the core of who we are.”

BYU (17-5, 8-3) jumped on the Lions with leads of 13-2 and 28-11 early on, and snapped LMU’s four-game winning streak.

Yes, it was another team effort for the Cougars.

“At this point, everyone has really accepted what they do best on this team. Guys aren’t trying figure out where they fit on this team,” Haarms said. “Everyone really knows where they fit and what they do best and what’s expected of them from the coaching staff. That’s really important for a team. We really know what we’re good at. All our players know their defined roles. I’ve been on a team where it’s been one guy and everyone’s supporting him. I feel like this team, every night, it can be a different player.”

Aside from Haarms, BYU enjoyed strong performances from Caleb Lohner, who followed up his career-high 19-point effort last Thursday at Pacific with 18 points, seven rebounds and two assists before fouling out.

“He’s doing such a great job. I’m really proud of him. He’s a guy that I’ve tried to mentor through the year,” Haarms said of Lohner. “There are things from today that he can improve on. He fouled out today and we can’t have that in the tournament, if we end up making the NCAA Tournament. He played a great game, but there’s always takeaways that he can learn from. He’s already such a dominant player now. I can’t wait to see where he is two or three years from now.”

Alex Barcello scored 15 points to go along with five rebounds and three assists. Brandon Averette added 14 points, five assists and a pair of 3-pointers.

Spencer Johnson and Trevin Knell both came off the bench to contribute eight points, and two 3-pointers, apiece.

BYU shot 55% for the game, including 59% in the second half.

“That’s a team,” Pope said. “Richard Harward’s like, ‘I don’t know how anybody scouts us.’ Clearly, we have to get way better, but right now, at this point of the season, I am so proud of this group. … These guys are working hard and it’s really fun.”

LMU (11-7, 6-4) was led by Ivan Alipiev, who scored a game-high 22 points on 8 of 9 shooting from the field, including 4 of 4 from 3-point range.

The Lions’ leading scorer, Eli Scott, scored 17 points, one shy of his season average. Keli Leaupepe finished with 15.

BYU dominated LMU from the opening tip and then did what it’s done in its last three road games.

“Getting that dominant lead early feels really good,” Haarms said. “Our guys did a good job coming in here with energy right away. Everyone was ready to go.”

More key numbers for BYU: After Saturday’s win, BYU climbed nine spots in KenPom to No. 18, and the Cougars are ranked in the top 25 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

This team has “got a really high ceiling,” Pope said. “We haven’t approached that yet.”

BYU hosts San Francisco next Thursday.