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Freshman Caleb Lohner is making his mark early for the BYU men’s basketball team

His shot is still coming around, but the true freshman leads the team in rebounding going into WCC play. ‘He’s done a great job,’ says coach Mark Pope.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars forward Caleb Lohner (33) shoots as Weber State Wildcats center Dontay Bassett (21) defends, in basketball action between the Brigham Young Cougars and the Weber State Wildcats at Vivint Arena, on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020.

In the BYU Cougars’ most recent game, against Weber State, freshman Caleb Lohner brought down an offensive rebound and scored on a put-back to give BYU a bigger cushion with 30 seconds left in the game.

The board and basket all but guaranteed the Cougars’ win.

And that’s what has led coach Mark Pope to make the true freshman an occasional starter.

“It’s actually making a way bigger difference than people may think,” Pope said of Lohner’s willingness to hit the glass. “For us to be solid every single night, the confidence it gives us to know that he’s going to not only really do great on the defensive glass … that’s actually worth way more than just the face value of the numbers. He’s done a great job.”

Lohner’s production stands out given the backstory here. The freshman almost didn’t don a Cougar uniform. In an alternate reality, his ability to get extra plays off rebounds could have led Utah to a comeback win over BYU a few weeks ago. Lohner originally signed with the Utes.

But over the summer he asked for his release from the Utes, then signed to play with the Cougars.

BYU’S WCC OPENER POSTPONED

Due to a positive COVID-19 test in the Pepperdine program, BYU’s WCC opener against the Waves in Malibu on Thursday has been postponed, the school announced Wednesday.

The Cougars remain on track to play at San Diego on Saturday.

The Wasatch Academy product has played in every game this season, started in four games and is averaging the fifth-most minutes (19.2) behind Alex Barcello (31.1), Brandon Averette (26.7), Connor Harding (24.7) and Matt Haarms (22.2).

Lohner is still struggling with this shot. He’s shooting only 33.9% from the floor. But it’s on the glass where the freshman really shines, leading the team in rebounding with a 6.6 average — a full two rebounds more per game than the next Cougar.

“Right now, one of my key roles for this team is getting rebounds,” Lohner said. “And if that’s something I can do to help them win games for this team, I’m going to do it. I’ve actually found it really fun to going to the glass, getting rebounds. It kind of brings some juice to the team and me, and gets me going on the defensive end of the floor. It’s been fun.”

Now, Lohner — and the rest of the Cougars — is getting ready for his next challenge: conference play.

BYU was scheduled to start the West Coast Conference portion of its schedule Thursday at Pepperdine, but the game was postponed late Wednesday. The Cougars are scheduled to play at San Diego on Saturday.

The Cougars finished the nonconference portion of the schedule a week ago and boast a 9-2 record.

While there are parts of Lohner’s game that still need improvement, Pope believes the freshman will still provide much-needed help on the court. And he’s eager to see how Lohner continues to grow throughout the remainder of the season.

“There’s some parts of the game that he’s super frustrated with right now,” Pope said. “For a less-mature player, that might distract him from doing the things that they’re great at, and he’s actually been able to not be distracted by the things that aren’t going well and keep doing the things that are earning him minutes and helping us win. It’s a real tribute to him.”

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