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Utah basketball: Revisiting the shorthanded Utes’ strong finish

Utah Utes forward Timmy Allen (1) pauses before a fre—throw against the USC Trojans at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020.  
Ivy Ceballo, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Whether or not Rylan Jones misses any time with his leg injury after taking a hard charge, the way the University of Utah basketball team responded in his absence in the final three minutes of Sunday’s win over USC was quite encouraging.

Though it seemed to be the wrong kind of pivotal play when Jones stood his ground, tried to stop a 225-pound truck named Daniel Utomi and then had to be helped off the court in pain, the Utes made the most of the momentum-shifting defensive play.

Two of the young team’s more experienced players — sophomore Timmy Allen and junior Alphonso Plummer — wouldn’t have it any other way.

Allen listed three things that were key to the Utes’ strong finish, which helped Utah hold on for a 79-65 win over the Trojans that snapped a three-game losing streak and lifted their spirits heading into the home stretch of the regular season.

Those three things included playing with poise, rebounding and finishing strong.

Check.

Check.

And check.

Allen added one more thing that was necessary in the closing moments: “We had to make some baskets.”

Because they did the other three things so well, they actually didn’t need to score another point. But it certainly helped that they did — something that they managed to do for the most part while improving their record to 15-12 overall and 6-9 in Pac-12 action.

“We played with good energy, played good defense and stuck to the game plan — simple things that add up,” Allen said after his 21-point, 10-rebound double-double effort. “So I’m happy with our performance overall.”

The final three minutes were especially laudable all things considered.

Jones’ final contribution against the Trojans was huge because USC had trimmed an 11-point deficit with six minutes left — and 14 earlier in the half — to just five points with 3:10 remaining, with a chance to cut into it even further.

While most people focused on Jones, Krystkowiak turned his focus onto the next play as coaches are wont to do. He even smiled while telling how he actually made a quick prayer about what play to run next.

The one he happened to turn to first also happened to be the play that helped Plummer hit a key 3-pointer with 2:54 remaining.

“God is good,” Krystkowiak said, recalling the prayer story he shared with his team.

Plummer’s fifth 3-pointer of the game — he finished with 18 points in a second-straight stellar showing — pushed Utah’s lead to 70-62 and sparked a 12-0 run.

Plummer then made a steal and the two teams exchanged shots until Allen scored on a layup for a 10-point lead.

Both Gach and Allen both hit some free throws as USC desperately tried to force a late comeback, and Allen put the final touches on the impressive victory and late stretch with a jumper.

USC then hit a late meaningless 3-pointer to end Utah’s scoring streak.

Branden Carlson, Gach and Allen all had rebounds in the game-clinching surge with Jones in the tunnel and the training room being worked on.

Now the Utes will get two more chances to pick up their first road win in conference play— Wednesday at Stanford and Saturday at Cal.