FORT WORTH, Texas — Using a strong defense and a healthy dose of Marshall Henderson, the Utah basketball team got back on the winning track Wednesday night with a 64-55 victory over TCU at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum.
The Utes played their best defense of the year, according to coach Jim Boylen and Henderson — playing in front a large group of family and friends — scored a career-high 24 points to help the Utes break a three-game losing streak and improve to 11-12 on the season and 4-5 in Mountain West Conference play.
Boylen was thrilled with his team's defense, which limited the Horned Frogs to just 36 percent shooting on the night, and he had special praise for Jace Tavita, who helped hold TCU's leading scorer, Ronnie Moss, to a 5-of-19 shooting night.
"Our defense was as good as it's ever been," Boylen said. "Tavita played his best game in a Utah uniform. I thought we played like a team, looked like a team. Defensively, I thought we were off the charts."
"We were just locked in and focused on the game plan," said Tavita. "Our effort and energy was right from the start. I just tried to make (Moss) do things he's uncomfortable with."
The Utes welcomed back Henderson, who sat out the Colorado State loss a week earlier for hitting BYU's Jackson Emery in the previous game. Henderson was extra motivated to play in front of a large following of fans behind the Ute bench and throughout the arena.
Henderson scored the first eight points of the game for Utah and had 14 by halftime. In the second half, he added a pair of 3-pointers and four free throws down the stretch to aid the victory.
"He came back guns blaring," said Boylen. "It probably shouldn't surprise anybody that he was focused and ready."
Besides Henderson, the Utes got 13 points from Carlon Brown and 12 from Luka Drca. Utah out-rebounded TCU 33-30 and only had nine turnovers on the night.
The Utes came into the game feeling a bit desperate for a victory after losing to Colorado State a week earlier at home.
Behind Henderson's first-half shooting, they took a 32-29 halftime lead and withstood several second-half rallies by TCU, which could never regain the lead.
To start the second half, the Utes jumped ahead 35-29 and had four chances to extend the lead as TCU missed its first five shots of the half. After the fifth miss, Boylen called time out and set up a play for Henderson, who sank an 18-footer from out front.
TCU scored nine straight to tie the game, but the Utes didn't lose the lead.
Henderson hit a long three to make it 46-43, and after two free throws by Greg Hill, the Utes got a big basket from Brown. With the shot clock winding down, Brown fired up a desperation 3-pointer from 25 feet out and banked it in to push the lead to four with 5:29 left.
"I thought it was going straight through, but I'll take the assistance," said Brown with a smile.
"That was a big break for us, obviously," added Boylen. "Sometimes you get a break on the road that helps you win."
On Utah's next possession, Tavita made a nice drive up the middle for a layup, and Brown followed with a three-point play off a spin move in the lane to push the lead to seven. From there, the Utes hit 10 straight free throws to ice the game.
Freshman Nikola Cerina led TCU with 17 points but only managed a single free throw in the second half. He had scored TCU's first 11 points of the game, and by the time the game was 13 minutes old, had surpassed his career high with 16 points.
Moss added 12, including a 3-pointer in the final seconds. Zvonko Buljan, a preseason all-MWC player had eight points and nine rebounds off the bench.
The Utes planned to stay and practice here Thursday morning before returning home this afternoon. They have a pair of home games Saturday against New Mexico Saturday night and UNLV Wednesday night.
GAME NOTES: David Foster, who came in averaging 4.5 blocks, didn't get a block until the final minute when he went out to block a 3-point attempt by Cerina. ... Tavita had a game-high five assists for Utah. ... The Utes beat TCU 65-45 last month in Salt Lake.