BYU freshman Caleb Lohner puts up career-best performance to lead Cougars to road win at Pacific

BYU stays on track to get to the NCAA Tournament with victory 10 days after falling to Gonzaga.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars forward Caleb Lohner (33) shoots as Pacific Tigers forward Jeremiah Bailey (13) defends, in basketball action, between the Brigham Young Cougars and the Pacific Tigers, at the Marriott Center in Provo, on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021.

With a 10-day break between action, BYU found itself caught between rest and rust. Would the time off negatively effect the Cougars or help?

The answer was made abundantly clear as the first half came to a close — the time off was helpful.

With fresh legs and rested bodies, the Cougars went on to rout Pacific 80-52 Thursday in the Alex G. Spanos Center. The win improves BYU to 16-5 on the season, and 7-3 in West Coast Conference play.

“This is exactly what I envisioned,” freshman Caleb Lohner said. “These last 10 days of not playing, we’ve been working so hard. There’s all these big gaps of not playing games. I think we really took advantage of that time, and we just got better. We figured out what we needed to do better, and I think it showed on the court tonight. ... I’m really proud of this team tonight.”

It was also a stark contrast from the last time both programs met last month, when the Tigers took the Cougars to double overtime before eventually falling to BYU at the Marriott Center.

Then, Lohner missed his two free throw attempts at the end of regulation that would have prevented the need for overtime. This time, Lohner led the Cougars with 19 points and nine rebounds.

The freshman forward had his best — and nearly perfect — game for BYU, shooting 6 of 8 from the field (including 5 of 6 from beyond the arc).

Lohner stayed perfect through the first half, which he capped off with an alley oop — his lone field goal within the arc.

The growth the staff has seen from Lohner is what coach Mark Pope has been expecting all along. The second-year coach believes many young, talented players have little moments of good things among a lot of fumbling until the game “kind of consolidates the last month or six weeks of their freshman season.

“It’s just a cycle that you see all the time,” Pope said. “He certainly had an unbelievable performance tonight. ... We’ll still struggle sometimes, and stumble sometimes, but he gave you a little sense of who he could be. He’s pretty special.”

Another part of the game that helped: the long shots fell for the Cougars.

Pacific isn’t known for its 3-point shooting, but BYU sure is. While the Cougars have struggled at times from beyond the arc, that wasn’t the case on Thursday as they made 48% of their 3-point attempts. The Tigers only made 12.5% of their 3-pointers.

BYU also kept better control of the ball. Lately, the Cougars have struggled with turnovers, particularly early in the game, but won the turnover margin this time around. BYU gave up 10 turnovers, while causing 12 Pacific turnovers.

Seniors Alex Barcello and Brandon Averette combined for 12 assists, while only giving up two turnovers. For Pope, that stat line was the most significant part of the game because of the pounding that Pacific gives its opponents.

“That is such a massive key for this team to be successful, and we’ve got to continue to see those numbers from them,” Pope said.

While the Cougars were hot offensively, their defensive performance was also on fire.

Pacific forward Jeremiah Bailey, who’s averaging 12.3 points, came into the game off a career-high 28 points scored last Saturday against LMU. Bailey was held to two points on 1 of 7 shooting from the field.

The Tigers’ leading scorer Dannis Jenkins, who is averaging 12.9 points per game, was held to six points on 3 of 9 shooting.

“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. And I think we did a great job of that as a team. The score shows — we came out, did our defensive assignments and we just played basketball.”

The Cougars next travel to Los Angeles for a Saturday matinee game at Loyola Marymount.

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