The Runnin’ Utes took their shot against No. 6 Houston. Why they couldn’t quite pull the upset
Utah rallied from 14 down in the second half before the Cougars put the game away in the waning minutes
The University of Utah — particularly Gabe Madsen — gave No. 6 Houston its toughest test of the season Friday afternoon.
It wasn’t quite enough, though, as the Runnin’ Utes lost to the Cougars 76-66 in their Charleston Classic semifinal game at TD Arena in Charleston, South Carolina.
The biggest factor
Houston entered the game as the nation’s top scoring defense, giving up just 44.5 points per game while holding opponents to 34.4% shooting. Utah shot slightly better than that from the field at 35.8%, but suffered through multiple long stretches when it struggled offensively.
The Runnin’ Utes missed nine out of their first 10 field-goal attempts to start the second half.
That followed a stretch late in the first half when Utah missed six of its final seven field-goal attempts of the half and saw Houston push its lead out to nine points at halftime.
“They come at you in waves, they put a lot of pressure on you with their pick and roll defense and they double the posts all the time,” Utah coach Craig Smith said of Houston.
“They really try to disrupt. They come flying at you from every angle.”
“They really try to disrupt. They come flying at you from every angle.” — Utah coach Craig Smith, on Houston
Branden Carlson, one night after scoring a career-high 31 points, put up 17 against Houston to go with eight rebounds and two steals.
He had eight early points to help Utah get out to a 12-4 lead but scored just five points after halftime.
Outside of Madsen (more on his day in a moment), the Utes shot just 9 of 34 from the field — or 26.4% — and Carlson was the only other Ute to score in double-figures.
Cole Bajema was held scoreless, Rollie Worster and Lawson Lovering each scored nine —though on a combined 4 of 13 shooting — and the Utes got just two bench points in a game in which they only used eight players.
“For the first five minutes, you’ve just got to settle in,” Madsen said of facing Houston’s stifling defense. “For the most part, I think we did that, but obviously had some turnovers and whatnot late.
“I think we did a decent job of picking it apart a little bit, but (their vaunted defense) is what you hear about for sure.”
Other key takeaways
Gabe Madsen had a career shooting game: The one Utah player who shot well was Madsen, who scored a career-high 29 points while hitting 10 of 19 shots, including 8 of 15 from 3-point range.
He sparked a 14-2 run in the second half that helped Utah turn a 12-point deficit into a tie game at 56-56, as he hit three 3s in that stretch.
The Utes defense also stepped up during that run, forcing Houston to miss six of its seven field-goal attempts.
“When you’re down like that, it’s about rallying together, getting stops and playing as a team,” Madsen said.
His final 3 — and the one that set his career high in points — pulled Utah within 72-66 with just under two minutes to play, but Houston sealed the win at the free-throw line.
Madsen, who also had six rebounds and two assists, also converted a four-point play to get Utah’s second-half scoring going after a nearly three-minute scoring drought to start the half.
This came one day after Madsen scored just 7 points and shot 3 of 10 in Utah’s tournament-opening win over Wake Forest.
“That’s what competitors do. They respond in a great way,” Smith said.
Houston’s late-game surge: After the Utes tied the contest with 7:09 to play, Houston went on a 12-2 run — sparked by two 3-pointers from L.J. Cryer — to regain control.
The Cougars made seven of their final eight field-goal attempts in the game, and were led by Emanuel Sharp, who had 15 points, six rebounds and three steals.
“We gave ourselves every opportunity to win that game with about seven minutes to go. Give credit to them. They just made more plays than we did down the stretch,” Smith said.
Jamal Shead and Cryer, who hit half of Houston’s eight made 3-pointers, each added 14 points, while J’Wan Roberts added a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
Turnover woes: Houston converted 15 Utah turnovers into 19 points, while the Utes turned seven takeaways into 10 points, a key factor in what could have been a closer game.
Free-throw disparity: The Utes helped themselves stay in the game by hitting 18 of 25 free throws, while Houston, which got into foul trouble in the second half, made just 12 of 24.
Keba Keita absent: Smith said Keita — who played Thursday in the Utes’ tournament-opening win over Wake Forest — missed Friday’s game with an undisclosed injury, adding that he’s doubtful for Sunday’s game as well.
Utah (3-1) will play St. John’s on Sunday (3:30 p.m. MST) in the tournament’s third-place game. The Red Storm, who are coached by Rick Pitino, lost 88-81 to Dayton in the day’s other semifinal.
“We’re going to see full-court press a lot of the night, and they’re big, strong and athletic as well,” Smith said of facing St. John’s.
Charleston Classic schedule
All times Mountain Standard Time
- Game 1: St. John’s 53, North Texas 52.
- Game 2: Dayton 70, LSU 67.
- Game 3: Houston 65, Towson 49.
- Game 4: Utah 77, Wake Forest 70.
- Consolation 1: LSU 66, North Texas 62.
- Semifinal 1: Dayton 88, St. John’s 81.
- Semifinal 2: Houston 76, Utah 66.
- Consolation 2: Wake Forest 71, Towson 61.
- 7th-place game: North Texas vs. Towson, 10:30 a.m. (ESPN+).
- 5th-place game: LSU vs. Wake Forest, 1 p.m. (ESPN2).
- 3rd-place game: St. John’s vs. Utah, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN).
- Championship game: Dayton vs. Houston, 6:30 p.m. (ESPN).