Getting into the NIT isn’t the most sexy destination for most teams, but getting to NYC and possibly winning it is actually pretty cool, and that’s the situation that Utah finds themselves in after beating Saint Mary’s on the road Wednesday night. The 2-seed Utes had to overcome some adversity to beat the 1-seed SMC on the road, but they battled and did just that.
First of all, the only team to win on Saint Mary’s before tonight was Gonzaga... of course, the Gaels don’t really play a lot of great teams all season, so that may be a bit watered down, but still, a solid accomplishment. Utah also was out rebounded by 14, and gave up 16 offensive rebounds. That’s a number that usually puts you seriously behind the 8 ball, especially on the road. Lastly, after a solid first half, David Collette missed the second half after an apparent back injury, making the Utes really small against a big front line of SMC... oh and then Jayce Johnson fouled out making the Utes super small.
Two of Utah’s seniors really took over in the fourth quarter, with Justin Bibbins and Tyler Rawson digging the Utes out of a 5 point hole to open the quarter. Rawson kept Utah tied or within a possession with some big threes in the waning minutes of the gamne, and Bibbins was great at breaking down SMC and hitting some big mid range jumpers. Rawson ended with 17 points, 5 of 7 from deep, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks — he balled out. Bibbins had 10 points, and had SMC concerned about him all night long, giving other guys good looks.
In the overtime period, however, it was all about Sedrick Barefield. He had a flurry of threes that broke the tie and put Utah up for good. Utah would stall out a bit and he’d hit a big three to bail out the Utes. He also broken down the defender quite often off the dribble to give himself good looks around the hoop. His 19 points was huge, but the last 6 broke SMC’s back. It was nice to see him with 4 assists too, showing some playmaking skills. Not to be overlooked, but Gabe Bealers shooters bounce three in OT really put Utah in a ncie position. He struggled from the floor all night, but watching that ball bounce straight up off the rim and then fall was a thing of beauty.
Nice win for the Utes, and now it’s on to NYC to take on Western Michigan next Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. Hopefully Collette can get right to be able to play, but until then, the Utes can enjoy this one.