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Shorthanded Runnin’ Utes play ‘scared,’ get embarrassed by Oregon State

‘We beat ourselves,’ says Utes star Timmy Allen after Oregon State walloped Utah 74-56 in a key Pac-12 game in Corvallis, Oregon, on Thursday night

Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak calls to players during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Oregon State in Corvallis, Ore., Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021. Utah basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak says the Utes played “like a deer in the headlights” after the Utes lost 74-56 to the Beavers.
Amanda Loman, Associated Press

Basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak has said it dozens of times over the course of his 10-year tenure as head coach of the Runnin’ Utes. He can handle getting beat by teams, especially in the Pac-12 where the Utes are often on the short end of the size and talent stick.

Beating themselves is inexcusable, in Krystkowiak’s book.

But that’s what happened Thursday night in Corvallis, at least from Utah’s perspective, as the shorthanded visitors, playing without starters Rylan Jones and Mikael Jantunen for the second time, committed 20 turnovers and shot just 38% from the field in a 74-56 loss to Oregon State at Gill Coliseum.

“You are at the point of the season right now where we are all trying to get to the finish line, and I thought we had a scared look on our face,” Krystkowiak said.

It was that sad. In falling back to .500 on the season — 9-9 overall and 6-8 in Pac-12 play — the Utes played arguably their worst game of the roller-coaster year. Of course, there was another team on the court, evenly matched with the Utes but more healthy, and the Beavers (11-10, 7-8) have to be credited for grinding out the win when they didn’t play exceptionally well themselves.

Senior Ethan Thompson scored 25 points, while forward Warith Alatishe added a career-high 19 points and nine rebounds as OSU improved to 9-7 against Utah in Pac-12 games.

For Utah, Timmy Allen had 24 points on 9-of-17 shooting, but he forced a lot of shots and had six turnovers in 37 minutes. He looked tired, partly because he got little help. Branden Carlson picked up two quick fouls, spent the bulk of the first half on the bench, then fired out of the second half like he was Bill Walton.

The sophomore from South Jordan scored 12 of his 16 points the first five minutes of the second half when Utah erased a six-point halftime deficit and actually took a 37-32 lead. The Utes looked like they were ready to take control.

But after Carlson hit a pair of free throws to give Utah a 39-38 lead, the Utes hit a wall.

Oregon State went on a 17-0 run, and that was that. Alfonso Plummer, who scored all 23 points in the second half to lead Utah to a stirring comeback over Colorado last month, could not rescue the Utes on this ugly night.

Plummer was 0 for 5 in 14 minutes, after scoring 35 and hitting 11 3-pointers in Utah’s win over OSU at last March’s Pac-12 Tournament.

“When we actually executed, which we did very little, we did coming out of the second half, you know, we screened (and flourished),” Krystkowiak said. “You are only going to be as strong as your weakest link as an offensive and defensive unit.”

Aside from that five-minute stretch, the coach said his team looked like a deer in the headlights.

“That was the story of the game,” he said. “I thought the turnovers and our inability to get a defensive rebound, particularly in the first half (hurt). They pounded us. We had a lot of ball-watchers.”

Oregon State finished with 12 offensive rebounds, which it turned into 13 second-chance points. After OSU regained its lead with about 15 minutes remaining, the Utes recorded 11 straight empty possessions.

During one stretch, Allen had his shot blocked by Alatishe on three straight possessions. On another stretch, the Utes turned the ball over on five of eight trips down the floor.

“We just kinda stopped playing like we were. We were playing good and playing together. After that, we just let them get into us a bit, let them go on runs, didn’t make our shots, and didn’t pass the ball, just a lot of things,” Carlson said.

The Beavers were just less sloppy than the Utes. And Utah was really, really sloppy. Utah was outrebounded 36-29, made just 3 of 18 3-point attempts, passed up on wide-open shots, missed shots that were even more wide-open, and generally looked disinterested for many stretches.

“Life is going to be hard. Winning a basketball game is going to be hard, and I thought we thought it was going to be easier, and we weren’t committed to working together offensively to get better shots,” Krystkowiak said. “We had a couple guys step up, but beyond that it was definitely ineffective.”

Without Jantunen, who is in Europe playing for the Finnish national team in a EuroBasket 2022 qualifier, and with Jones watching from the sidelines with a sore shoulder, Krystkowiak turned to reserves Ian Martinez, Lahat Thioune and Jaxon Brenchley, with mixed results.

Thioune gave the Utes a lift off the bench with six first-half points, but didn’t score in the second half. Brenchley was 0 for 1 in 10 minutes and Martinez didn’t score in 21 minutes before fouling out.

It looks like it is going to be a long and frustrating February until Jones and Jantunen get back.

“Our margin for error isn’t big enough to be able to shoot ourselves in the foot,” said Allen, agreeing with Krystkowiak’s assessment that the Utes beat themselves. “I gotta take that one on the chin and just get better. We aren’t going to win every one, but we can’t beat ourselves. So that is the main message coming out of this game.”

The Utes committed 10 turnovers in a sloppy, mistake-filled first half, and were 0 for 6 from 3-point range. Not surprisingly, given those numbers, they trailed 30-24 at the break.

The Utes shot just 36% in the first half, but stayed within striking distance because they held OSU to 38%. Obviously, OSU improved its shooting in the second half; Utah didn’t.

The lone bright spot: Utah didn’t miss a free throw.

The Utes were 8 of 8 from the free-throw line in the first half and 5 of 5 in the second half, going 13 for 13 from the stripe overall. It was the first time Utah has been perfect from the stripe since an 11-for-11 outing in 2012 against Arizona State.

Oregon State was 16 of 17 from the line. The Beavers were 15 of 29 from the field in the second half, as Utah let its offensive mistakes affect its effort on the other end.

“I thought our defense was good enough in the first half, with the exception of the rebounding. But offensively, it was a struggle. And that was the key. When we call audibles and we try to do things and we look sloppy and turn the ball over, we struggled,” Krystkowiak said. “And at times looked scared.”

At least the Utes don’t have to face the Beavers again on Monday at the Huntsman Center, as was previously scheduled. Thursday morning, the Pac-12 moved that game to the week of March 1, so after playing at Oregon on Saturday, the Utes won’t have another game until they host UCLA next Thursday.