Runnin’ Utes fade down the stretch, lose opportunity to get first Pac-12 road win
Oregon State forces 20 Utah turnovers and dominates the Utes in the paint to take a 88-76 win at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis, Ore.
CORVALLIS, Ore.— The Runnin’ Utes got another taste of what new coach Craig Smith likes to call “big boy basketball in the Pac-12” on Thursday night at Gill Coliseum.
The results were somewhat encouraging, but mostly unpleasant.
Taking advantage of an uncharacteristic 20 turnovers by the Utes and hammering the visitors in the paint, the Beavers played more like the team that made it to the Elite Eight last spring and less like the team that has already lost 10 games this season.
Jarod Lucas torched Utah for 25 points, and OSU scored 40 points in the paint and 23 points off turnovers to down the Utes 88-76 in front of a sparse announced crowd of 3,245 on a wintry night in Corvallis.
“The turnover thing hasn’t been an issue since the first two games. So that was a little bit surprising, quite frankly. We have to be a team that can defend consistently, and when we have lost we have not done that. And when we have lost we have also just been destroyed inside, and that was the case tonight.” — Utah basketball coach Craig Smith
“Credit to them,” said Utes guard David Jenkins Jr., who led Utah with 22 points. “They came out hot, and we didn’t match their physicalness and their energy, and that is something we need to change.”
The sooner the better — like before Saturday’s post-Rose Bowl matchup with another team that made a nice run in the NCAA Tournament last spring but has been a disappointment this winter, the Oregon Ducks. Oregon (7-6) didn’t play Thursday because Utah traveling partner Colorado has COVID-19 issues.
Thursday’s loss drops Utah’s record to 1-2 in Pac-12 play — the Utes were overwhelmed by USC in their league opener way back on Dec. 1 in Los Angeles — and 8-5 overall, but there was plenty for the Utes to build on.
The box score shows a 12-point loss, but the game was much more competitive than that. Utah trailed just 76-69 and had freshman Lazar Stefanovic at the free-throw line with 3:13 left. But he missed the front end of the one-and-one, and seconds later Marco Anthony missed a bunny at the rim. Utah went the final seven minutes — after Gabe Madsen’s triple at the 7:05 mark — with just one field goal, a layup by Stefanovic.
“We convert that and now (the lead) is down to four,” Smith said. “But you know, at the end of the day it is going to be really difficult to win when you turn it over 20 times and you allow 40 points in the paint. Those are hard things to overcome.”
When Branden Carlson, who scored nine points and had nine rebounds in 24 minutes in his first game back from health and safety protocol, hit a 3-pointer early in the second half, the Utes had trimmed a 47-38 halftime disadvantage to a one-point deficit and were starting to roll.
Those first five minutes of the second half marked some of the best basketball the Runnin’ Utes have played this season. They were 10 of 16 from 3-point range after Carlson’s swish.
But they committed their 13th turnover the next trip down, Stefanovic and Jenkins missed open 3-pointers after that, and OSU began gradually pulling away.
“I think we didn’t execute down the stretch,” Jenkins said. “Honestly, credit to Oregon State because they did a good job from the jump. They came out throwing punches and were the aggressors. We should have been the aggressors. We should have been the ones throwing the punches early.”
The Beavers, who got 16 from Warith Alatishe, 13 from Dashawn Davis and 12 from Roman Silva, did a nice defensive job on Jenkins in the final 11 minutes. The UNLV transfer’s triple with 11:22 left cut the deficit to 63-60, but he didn’t get anything close to a decent look after that.
“They started to lock me up,” Jenkins said. “They deny you the ball, even when the ball is on the other side of the floor. Credit to them. When a team does that, it is hard at the end of the day.”
While Utah was nearly back to full strength, OSU was far from it. The Beavers had only six players at their shootaround Thursday morning, and it was touch-and-go until three more players were cleared to go in the afternoon.
Coach Wayne Tinkle had just nine available players with which to work. Three rotations guys — Gianni Hunt, Rodrigue Andela and Xzavier Malone-Key — didn’t play. But somehow the Beavers put together their best outing of the season — their only other wins coming against Nicholls and Portland State.
Forcing 20 turnovers was the key. That, and exploiting the Utes inside. With 6-foot-10 center Dusan Mahorcic watching from the bench in street clothes — he’s due back in a couple weeks — Silva and company had their way in the paint.
Lahat Thioune had been coming on the past few weeks, but was mostly a nonfactor and played just 12 minutes. Carlson got off to a slow start, had some decent stretches, and then got in foul trouble — a couple were ticky-tack — and had just one blocked shot.
Utah won the rebounding battle 37-32, but that was small consolation.
“That first half, we were just a turnover drill,” Smith said. “We were throwing that thing all over the place and it was over-dribbling, not jump-stopping, everything else. It was a combination of everything. … We were very disjointed and I thought we were playing (too much) one-on-one. And that is partially credit to them. They heated us up and we didn’t have an answer.”
Utah’s defense was also suspect. The Beavers shot 62% in the first half and 56% for the game. A lot of those came after what Smith calls “catastrophic turnovers” — giveaways that lead to easy dunks and layups.
Utah committed 20 turnovers in its opener against Abilene Christian and 13 against Bethune-Cookman a week later, but hasn’t had more than 12 in a game since then.
“The turnover thing hasn’t been an issue since the first two games,” Smith said. “So that was a little bit surprising, quite frankly. We have to be a team that can defend consistently, and when we have lost we have not done that. And when we have lost we have also just been destroyed inside, and that was the case tonight.”