Caleb Lohner dunks against Long Beach State. (Decker Westenburg)

Second half scoring outburst pushes BYU men’s hoops past Long Beach State in 93-72 NIT opening round win

A late 21-point scoring run propelled BYU men’s basketball to a 93-72 NIT opening-round victory over Long Beach State Wednesday night in Provo, more than compensating for early mistakes to mark the program’s first NIT win since 2016.

The Cougars appeared flat out of the gate, stumbling to commit 10 turnovers and nine fouls in the first half with the typically dominant Alex Barcello managing a mere three points. Long Beach converted BYU’s early giveaways into 15 points, leading the Cougars by five at the half despite paltry shooting and a severe rebounding disadvantage.

Clawing back to tie the score at 57 apiece with just under 12 minutes to play, a Gideon George and-one jumper gave the Cougars the lead, followed by a George heat check 3-pointer to offer additional insurance.

Once George got BYU rolling, there was no looking back. It was almost as if George turned on a fire hose that blasted nothing but “Michael’s secret stuff” with no way to cut off the flow, as the Cougars went on a 21-0 run over the next four minutes to all but bury Long Beach in the sand.

“We started getting stops in the second half that led to transition buckets, and that just gives us juice on offense,” forward Caleb Lohner said.

Lohner led the scoring charge with perhaps his finest performance at BYU, notching his first career 20-point outing and shooting an impressive 9-of-11 from the field. George added 16 points and his standard defensive disruption and Barcello recovered from his early struggles for 14 points and four made threes.

Fouss Traore continued his dominance in the post for 11 points, seven rebounds and three blocks, with Trevin Knell and Spencer Johnson combining for 16 points, seven boards and seven assists. BYU’s senior backcourt tandem of Barcello and Te’Jon Lucas teamed up for 12 assists, helping to set the tone for the free-flowing offensive effort in creating shots all throughout the rotation.

As a team, the Cougars shot a convincing 55% from the field, hit 10 threes, scored 48 points in the paint, dished out 28 assists and crashed the glass to win the rebounding battle 45-30. The NIT may not have been its preferred March destination, but BYU put it all together for one of its most complete wins of the season as “Mark Pope’s motley crew” fights to keep seniors Barcello and Lucas on the court as long as possible.

“I think we’re all working on our emotions right now,” Pope said.

The Cougars are set to face Northern Iowa in the NIT’s second round Saturday night in Provo, needing two more wins to earn a semifinal berth at Madison Square Garden in New York.

“Our approach is the same it’s always been: play basketball, have fun, fight for each other and make plays,” Lohner said.

BYU and Northern Iowa are scheduled to tip-off Saturday at 7 p.m. MST.

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