MORAGA, Calif. — Start spreading the news, the Utah Utes are headed to New York. They pulled out a 67-58 overtime win at Saint Mary’s Wednesday to earn a trip to Madison Square Garden and a date with Western Kentucky in next Tuesday's semifinals.
The Utes prevailed despite being outrebounded badly and playing shorthanded.
They found a way to overcome a 40-26 deficit on the boards and the loss of big men David Collette and Jayce Johnson. Collette missed the second half and overtime because of a back injury, while Johnson fouled out.
Sedrick Barefield stepped up and scored a game-high 19 points. He hit three 3-point shots in the extra session as the Utes pulled away.
“I believe in myself to take those shots and man they went in,” Barefield said. “It felt good from the moment they left my hands. I’m just happy that we’re going to Madison Square Garden. I’m happy that our team stepped up in a variety of ways with Dave and with guys down.
“It’s just a great feeling,” he added.
Barefield wasn’t alone. The Utah locker room was loud and proud after the game. The Utes took time to celebrate and savor the moment.
“That was a lot of fun,” said Tyler Rawson, who finished with 17 points and hit a couple of key 3-point shots in the fourth quarter. “It was just a slugfest, back and forth.”
In the end, though, the Utes delivered a knockout punch with a 10-1 run over the final 2:06. Barefield and Gabe Bealer took care of the scoring during the decisive stretch.
“We scrapped and it was all about making shots,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak.
The Utes, he noted, were at the moment of truth trailing 39-34 at the end of three quarters. They wound up just staying in the fight and making plays.
“It’s fantastic. It’s such a great group of guys and we’ve been talking ever since Jon (Huntsman’s) passing about going big,” Krystkowiak continued. “It’s up there in big letters on the board. I thought our guys played really hard and smart and together.”
Krystkowiak added that they simply didn’t want the season to end.
“So we’re fortunate to get a chance to go to Madison Square Garden and be a part of some postseason fun,” he said.
The Utes are advancing after knocking off UC Davis (69-59) and LSU (95-71) before the triumph over Saint Mary’s. They’re headed to the NIT semifinals for the first time since 1992.
“It’s awesome,” Krystkowiak said.
Collette, who had eight points in the first half, took a hit late in the second quarter and his back locked up — keeping him on the bench for the remainder of the game.
“Obviosuly it’s never easy sitting out and watching but I had all the faith in them,” Collette said. “They’re good. They had it under control.”
The game was tied at 14-14 after one quarter and 28-28 at halftime. The contest featured 14 ties and nine lead changes.
“We just tried to find a way,” Rawson said.