Gideon George shoots over a UNI defender on Saturday. (Decker Westenburg)

‘King George’ reigns over Northern Iowa in BYU’s 90-71 second round NIT victory

The idea of Alex Barcello carrying BYU men’s basketball in the postseason seemed to be a pretty safe bet prior to the start of NIT play. After all, it had been the narrative for the entirety of BYU’s oscillatory regular season.

Saturday night, however, Gideon George decided to take command.

Much like Caleb Lohner’s career night Wednesday against Long Beach State, George posted a personal-best 27 points to lead the Cougars to a 90-71 victory over Northern Iowa in the NIT’s second round.

The game often had the feel of a home run derby or high octane football shootout, with both sides letting it fly for a combined 64 3-point attempts and the Cougars knocking down 16 at a 43% clip. George and Trevin Knell each drained five shots from behind the arc, becoming the first BYU tandem to do so since 2016.

“I just stuck to the course of what we’ve been doing all season long,” George said. “‘Shoot it with faith’ is what coach always says. I shot it with faith tonight.”

BYU trailed by as many as 10 points in a dogfight first half, finally taking the lead for good with about six minutes to play before halftime and burying the Panthers for a 20-6 run in the game’s back end. The Cougars hid their turnover habits in surrendering a mere six giveaways, working efficiently on offense to manufacture 22 total assists with Barcello and Te’Jon Lucas accounting for 15 as a tandem.

“We’re quicker about loving the game,” head coach Pope said. “50 assists in two games is a big deal for us…we’re still getting better.”

George’s 27 points — his first 20-point outing at BYU — came on 10-of-15 shooting from the field while grabbing six rebounds. Knell finished with 15 points, Lucas added 14 with eight assists and Barcello posted 11 points, seven dimes, five rebounds and two steals. Lohner scored a quick eight points with a pair of threes and swatted two blocks in another encouraging performance.

Mark Pope points at Gideon George after a play against UNI. (Decker Westenburg)

“Our best two players the last two games have been Gideon George and Caleb Lohner,” Pope said. “That’s BYU’s future right there.”

The Cougars now await the result of Sunday’s matchup between SMU and Washington State to determine their opponent in the NIT quarterfinals. Should Washington State secure the upset over the Mustangs, BYU would retain home court and earn one last chance to play at the Marriott Center.

“Alex Barcello is gonna remember our fans from these two games just as much as games against Gonzaga,” Pope said of the attendance and ROC turnout thus far.

A win in the quarterfinals would notch BYU’s first 25-win season since 2016 and punch a ticket to the NIT Final Four at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

“I think the future is going to be bright,” George said.

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