SALT LAKE CITY — After four blowout wins, all by more than 25 points, the Utah basketball team found itself in a bit of a tight game Saturday night against Savannah State, a team that had already lost to two of the Utes’ victims from the previous two nights.
With less than 10 minutes remaining, the Utes held a single-digit lead and were starting to sweat for the first time all season. However, every time the Tigers threatened to make things too close for comfort, Jordan Loveridge came to the rescue.
The sophomore forward scored 12 of his game-high 25 points in the final 11 minutes to help the Utes to a 71-57 victory as they improved to 5-0 on the season. It marks the first 5-0 start for Utah since the 1997-98 Final Four season and only the third 5-0 start since 1968.
“Jordan was big for us,’’ said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “He hit some big shots for us when we needed it and we needed the timing of those shots when we were up by six points.’’
Loveridge, who also led the Utes with nine rebounds, was happy to take control for an inexperienced team that has just one senior.
“I just think my teammates were looking for me to attack more,’’ he said. “We had a timeout and a couple of my teammates, Ahmad (Fields) and Princeton (Onwas), were saying, ‘These guys can’t guard you and we need you to attack.’ So I just did what they needed.’’
After taking a 38-28 halftime lead, the Utes found themselves only up by six at 48-42 with just less than 12 minutes left. Loveridge drove the lane and scored a layup. After the Utes and Tigers traded baskets, Loveridge made a pair of free throws and then made a 3-pointer from the left angle to push the lead to 10.
Later he hit three more free throws and made a step-back jumper from 17 feet to make the score 66-53 with 3:10 left.
About the only thing Loveridge did wrong all night was miss a free throw with 4:56 remaining that was the Utes’ first miss from the foul line after 17 straight makes.
When asked about it afterward, he laughed and then said, “I don’t want to talk about that one.’’
On the night, the Utes were 25 of 27 from the charity stripe, which turned out to be a big factor since the Tigers made as many field goals (22) as the Utes, but only nine free throws.
Besides Loveridge, Onwas scored 14 off the bench, including 8 of 8 from the free-throw line, and Delon Wright scored 12 points and had four steals.
Deven Williams led the way for Savannah State with 16 points, while Hikeem Champaigne chipped in 10 points and nine rebounds.
“We have a lot of new guys on our team this year and they made some mental mistakes and a few defensive breakdowns,’’ said Savannah State coach Horace Broadnax. “When we play teams like this, the margin for error is so little and our mental mistakes cost us tonight.”
The Utes play their sixth-straight home game of the young season Wednesday night against Ball State at 8 p.m.
UTE NOTES: Because it was a tournament game, officially the Global Sports Hoops Showcase, the Utes wore their black road uniforms Saturday night. ... In the first game Saturday, Grand Canyon defeated Lamar 78-69 as Jerome Garrison led the way with 22 points. ... Grand Canyon finished with the second-best record in the tournament at 2-1, while Lamar ended up 1-2. ... Utah went 3-0 and Savannah State 0-3. ... The Utes had just one turnover in the first half and only five for the game. ... Renan Lenz had seven points and seven rebounds. ... Two Ute starters had rough shooting nights as Dakarai Tucker went 1 for 6 and Brandon Taylor 0 for 5. ... Attendance was 7,568.