It didn’t end the way Utah wanted it to end, but the Utes run came to an end after a loss to Penn State in the NIT Championship game on Thursday night. A season that was not filled with a lot of expectations came in a fun close with a great run over the last couple months of the season and into the post season, where Utah was once again the lone flag bearer for the Pac-12.
I had a bad feeling going into this game, because Penn State offered some matchup issues that Utah has struggled with, namely a lot of length. They reminded me a lot of USC in many ways, with their length and athleticism that caused Utah issues. The Utes got off to a good start, and jumped out to a 6 point lead with about 4 minutes left in the first, but after that they were playing uphill the rest of the game.
Utah’s defense really let them down in this game, by allowing PSU to shoot 55% from the field, you don’t win games when that happens, and Utah doesn’t have the offensive firepower to counter that. Utah also lost the rebounding battle, and gave up 8 more second chance points (10-2), that makes things extra difficult. Tony Carr almost dropped a triple-double, Lamar Stevens had 28 points (on 11 of 15 shooting), and Josh Reaves put up 18 of his own. Utah just couldn’t get stops when they needed them most, to help spur on the offense.
On offense the Utes were solid in the 2nd half, but they went through some awful droughts that just put them behind the 8-ball. It didn’t help that David Collette went down with a neck injury in the 1st half and was basically a non-factor from that point on. Justin Bibbins had some struggles, namely with the length of PSU. The only guy that could get things going was Sedrick Barefield, who had 22 points for the Utes. He was a flame thrower all game long, but was hampered by a rib injury a little in the latter parts of the game. He went too long without getting touches in that 2nd and 3rd quarter, which is when Utah went down in flames. The Utes did have the lead down to 3 in the 3rd, but a couple of turnovers really swung the game back around, and the Utes couldn’t recover.
All things considered, it’s a bummer Utah couldn’t come together to get the win, but they just kind of ran out of gas in this one. PSU was on a roll, and Utah went through two grind out games against SMC and WKU. They went on one hell of run over the last couple of months, and we’ll look at that more soon, but this team shouldn’t hang their heads. If only a guy like Kyle Kuzma would have been on this team, but, the senior leadership on this team did a great job this season.