Keba Keita said he was a “little nervous” making his first career start for the Utah men’s basketball team Thursday night.

It hardly showed.

The 6-foot-8 center, who was thrust into the starting lineup with Lawson Lovering out due to injury, responded with one of his best efforts of what’s already been a strong sophomore season.

“He has a killer mentality he brings out for the time he’s on the court.” — Branden Carlson on Keba Keita

He finished with a game-high 18 points, a career-best 15 rebounds and a career-high-tying three blocks in helping the Runnin’ Utes blow past Oregon State 74-47 at the Huntsman Center.

“I thought Keba responded really well tonight. Getting your first start is definitely a little nerve-racking for sure,” said Utah fifth-year senior Branden Carlson, who also had a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds.

“The way that Keba played tonight is how Keba usually plays great games for us. You know what we’re going to get out of him and he has a killer mentality he brings out for the time he’s on the court.”

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Keita finished the night with a plus/minus metric of plus-24 and he tied his second-highest scoring output of the season. Keita scored six of his points during a decisive 18-0 run in the first half that gave Utah the lead for good while shooting 7 of 12 from the field and 4 of 4 from the free-throw line.

He also had a career-best seven offensive rebounds that led directly to six of Utah’s 17 second-chance points. Another one of his offensive rebounds extended a possession that resulted in two more second-chance points.

“Keba … (is) just such a menace and force down there, just coming into his own,” Utah coach Craig Smith said. “He missed a couple early and you could see him a little frustrated. And it’s NBA, next best action, just keep pushing forward, and he did that in a great way.”

Another thing that was important for Keita was avoiding early foul trouble, something that he’s struggled with in a couple of games early in Pac-12 play.

“I think my mindset today was to play hard without fouling,” he said.

Keita ended up picking up just two fouls, about 15 seconds early in the second half.

That didn’t slow him from playing a season-high-tying 24 minutes.

Having Keita be able to stay out of foul trouble and on the floor will be key for Utah, especially as long as Lovering is out. Smith said it would be a surprise if Lovering or guard Rollie Worster, who’s also injured, played in the Utes’ next game Sunday against Oregon.

One thing the coach said the team did to help Keita stay out of foul trouble was to double the post against the Beavers.

“We had a long talk yesterday in a meeting — he just plays with so much force. He plays so hard, and he’s so strong. For him, I think he’s just competing and all of a sudden these guys are getting dislodged by three feet. He’s just so strong,” Smith said.

“That’s a normal thing for a young player, right? Young players tend to get more fouls because they’re a little out of position, a little overzealous. That’s a step now that he needs to take.”