BYU men’s basketball blowout over LMU good for NCAA Tournament chances

The Cougars beat the Lions 79-59 on Thursday at the Marriott Center.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young forward Caleb Lohner (33) goes for a rebound along with Loyola Marymount Lions forward Alex Merkviladze (24), in WCC basketball action between the Brigham Young Cougars and the Loyola Marymount Lions at the Marriott Center in Provo, on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022.

Provo • The BYU men’s basketball team bounced back from last weekend’s loss to Saint Mary’s with a dominant 79-59 victory over Loyola Marymount University. It was the team’s 20th overall win of the season with at least one more game left.

While the victory was much-needed for the Cougars after missing an opportunity against Quadrant 1 opponent in the Gaels, beating the Lions meant more than just simply beating the Lions.

The Cougars came into Thursday’s game projected by KenPom to beat LMU by 14 points. When it comes to rankings like KenPom, NCAA NET and others, a team’s margin of victory can hold great weight.

If a team underperforms relative to its projection, it actually hurts its ranking in those metrics and thus, weakens its NCAA Tournament résumé. And for a team on the bubble like the Cougars, metrics matter almost as much as getting wins at this late stage of the season.

BYU won by 20 points Thursday. Four players scored in double figures. Te’Jon Lucas led the way with 14, Caleb Lohner had 13 points and 11 rebounds, and Fousseyni Traore and Gideon George added 12 apiece.

Alex Barcello flirted with a triple-double, tallying nine points, seven rebounds and seven assists.

BYU coach Mark Pope said Tuesday that while focusing on margin of victory can sometimes be a distraction, he acknowledged the metric’s impact.

“It’s one of the unfortunate, maybe unintended consequences of putting so much stock into the NET and KenPom and all these other things is that if you win by 12 or if you win by 22, it really, really matters,” Pope said. “That’s why you see teams not emptying in the bench, not playing other guys on the roster is because those matter.”

Lohner, however, personally doesn’t concern himself with projections regarding margin of victory.

“For me, I honestly don’t care. I didn’t look it,” Lohner said after the game. “Maybe some guys do. But for me, that’s just not what I want to be filling my mind with before the game.”

The Cougars play Pepperdine on Saturday in what will be the final home game of the regular season. The team’s seniors will be honored. The team knows it needs to win to continue to be in the NCAA Tournament conversation.

BYU is projected by KenPom to beat the Waves by 19. The last time the two teams played, BYU won by just six.

Lohner said the team has learned to appreciate the grind of the season, especially after the gut-punch that was the four-game losing streak earlier in the year. And he even made a passing mention to how much the team’s margin of victory could dictate its position going forward.

“The guys that are stepping up and the guys that are playing really want to win and I think enjoy that grind,” Lohner said. “I enjoy that grind. I love it. It’s a challenge. We’re in this position now that every single game matters. Even the points matter.”

Women’s basketball

No. 19 BYU 103, Santa Clara 66

Paisley Harding scored 28 points in just 29 minutes as the Cougars blew out the Broncos on the road Thursday for their sixth straight win.

Shaylee Gonzales had 17 points, nine rebounds and five assists for BYU, which improved to 24-2 overall and 14-1 in the West Coast Conference. Lauren Gustin scored 13 points, and Emma Calvert contributed 13 points in eight minutes off the bench.

The Cougars close out their season Saturday on the road against Pacific.