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Final few minutes of 75-70 loss to Oregon State a microcosm of Runnin’ Utes’ frustrating season

Returning to the court for the first time since stunning No. 19 USC 71-61 last week, Utah turns the ball over twice in the final minutes and loses a heartbreaker to the Beavers

SHARE Final few minutes of 75-70 loss to Oregon State a microcosm of Runnin’ Utes’ frustrating season

Utah Utes guard Alfonso Plummer (25) passes the ball during game against Oregon State at the Huntsman Center on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. Utah lost 75-70 in the second-to-last regular season game of the year.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Thursday’s Utah-Oregon State men’s basketball game was about as close as a contest can get, with seven ties and 19 lead changes. Both teams had the lead for a little more than 17 minutes each.

Simply put, one team made all the big plays in the final minute, while the other team didn’t. University of Utah basketball fans who have been paying attention this season can probably guess which side the Utes were on, without being told.

After all, they’ve seen this scene way too many times the past few seasons.

Final score: Oregon State 75, Utah 70.

The Utes failed to score the last three times they had the ball, turning it over twice and then missing a meaningless shot as the final buzzer sounded at the Huntsman Center, empty save for a couple dozen parents and family members.

“More of a bad offensive play, rather than a stop, I would say. I just threw it into his hands. That’s on me.” — Utah guard Pelle Larsson on the turnover with less than 30 seconds remaining in Utah’s 75-70 loss to Oregon State.

It was another heartbreaker in a season full of them.

“I mean, the guys are down right now,” said Utah associate head coach Tommy Connor, filling in during the postgame Zoom session with reporters because head coach Larry Krystkowiak raced off when the game with a 5 p.m. tipoff concluded to catch his son’s 5A state playoff game at Olympus High. “Obviously, we came off a big win and this was a game we thought we had at least a chance to win, and thought we could win.”

So the Utes, fresh off Saturday’s 71-61 upset of then-No. 19 USC, fluttered back down to earth, again flashing their potential but faltering when it really mattered. Utah dropped to 10-12 overall, 7-11 in Pac-12 play, while OSU improved to 14-11 and 10-9 and swept the season series.

This stuff is getting old.

But any criticism of the Utes for falling short in the final minute should include the fact, in fairness, that they made a couple huge plays in crunch time to give themselves a chance, as well.

After OSU’s Roman Silva made a 3-point play with two minutes, six seconds left to give the visitors a 70-65 lead, Utah got a pair of free throws from Pelle Larsson and a 3-pointer from Mikael Jantunen, while giving up a layup to OSU’s Gianni Hunt, to trail by just a bucket.

Utah drew an offensive foul on Silva, a tough, delayed call from the officials, who huddled with 48 seconds left before making their original decision final.

That’s when Utah’s 14th turnover came. Larsson drove into the paint, then tried a lob pass to Branden Carlson that was intercepted.

“He was wide open. And I turned it over,” said Larsson, who overcame first-half foul trouble to score 12 points on 3 of 3 shooting from the field, 4 of 4 from the free-point line. 

Connor suggested the pass was deflected, but Larsson wanted no excuses.

“More of a bad offensive play, rather than a stop, I would say,” he said. “I just threw it into his hands. That’s on me.”

After OSU’s Jarod Lucas (16 points on 5 of 13 shooting) made one of two free throws, the Utes still had a chance, trailing 73-70. Timmy Allen (23 points, five rebounds and six assists while playing all 40 minutes) drove and then tried to hit a trailing Carlson with a pass but the ball went into the backcourt for a turnover with 13 seconds left.

Ball game.

“Obviously we had a couple blunders on the offensive end, did not take advantage (of getting the key stops),” Connor said.

The assistant coach rued not only those last two turnovers, but a mishandled drive by Alfonso Plummer that came just before Silva’s 3-point play gave the Beavers the five point play — a crucial five-point swing.

“We have a two-on-one and Fons fumbles the ball out of bounds,” Connor said. “That was an important play. That should have been two points, right?”

There have been a lot of coulda, shoulda, woulda for the Utes this season.

So we will add another: when you shoot 54% and make 8 of 19 3-pointers and hang your hat on defense, you should win games like this.

But the Utes’ defense failed them on this night. Oregon State matched the shooting — going 29 of 55 from the floor and 10 of 22 from beyond the arc — and dominated glass with a plus-10 margin.

“Maybe we weren’t trying hard enough on defense,” Jantunen acknowledged. “We made some mistakes. We had some really bad plays, we had some good plays on defense. We didn’t have enough good plays on defense. I should probably say it like that.”

Oregon State turned 12 offensive rebounds into 24 second-chance points, while Utah had just three offensive boards and four second-chance points.

During one crucial stretch, OSU hit back-to-back 3-pointers after corralling missed free throws to take a 46-42 lead with 16 minutes left.

Later, with around six minutes left, Hunt (17 points) hit a desperation, 25-foot 3-pointer as the shot clock was expiring to give the Beavers a 67-60 lead. The shot came moments after it appeared OSU committed a backcourt violation — that wasn’t called.

“That’s the bounce of the ball, right?” Connor said. “That was a big shot. But credit them for hitting them, too. You still have to make them, and they made them.”

Utah point guard Rylan Jones missed the game, having sustained a shoulder injury in the win over USC on Saturday. Krystkowiak has said the injury isn’t season-ending, but Utah’s time is getting short.

Connor said both teams looked tired — this pandemic-plagued season has taxed everyone, he said — but it was the Utes who displayed that the most. Oregon State’s bench scored 27 points, Utah’s reserves just three. 

Ian Martinez scored three points in 19 minutes, while Jaxon Brenchley, Riley Battin and Lahat Thioune combined for 17 minutes and didn’t get a single point among them.

“Ian has been giving us a spark off the bench, and he didn’t quite get it going today, didn’t have a lot of opportunity,” Connor said. “Riley needs to make some shots. He missed a few of his open shots that we need him to knock down. So those guys in particular give us some offense off the bench, and neither were able to do that tonight.”

Neither team played outstanding defense in the first half, aside from drawing a bunch of offensive fouls.

Carlson tried to get in the way of a thundering dunk by Warith Alatishe, but might find have found himself on a poster in the process. 

Allen didn’t score until 11:31 remained in the first half, then got points in bunches.

Add it all up, and it amounted to another gut-busting loss for a team that has no margin for error, not in the balanced, unspectacular Pac-12 where finishing is the name of the game.

The Utes host Arizona State at noon on Saturday in a regular-season finale that will air on FS1, then they play in the Pac-12 tournament next Wednesday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.