After a sixth-place regular season finish and a second-round exit at the Pac-12 postseason tournament, this year still has a chance to be a special season for the “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” University of Utah men’s basketball team.

The Utes’ season continued Sunday night in the National Invitation Tournament as Gabe Madsen poured in 31 points, including seven three-pointers, in a 91-82 win over Iowa in front of 3,800 fans at the Jon M. Huntsman Center.

With the win, Utah improved to 21-14 overall and advanced to the third round of the NIT.

Coach Craig Smith improved his record to .500 (49-49) in his third year and has a chance to improve it further in another home game Wednesday against Virginia Commonwealth.

A victory Wednesday would send Utah to the NIT Final Four at the famed Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

“We’ve been going (playing together) since June and we’re right in this thing,” said Madsen, who made 7-of-15 treys. “We have a good group and now we get another game at the Huntsman. When the season ended, it’s not what our goal was. Once everybody got their head wrapped in, ‘We’re going to the NIT,’ it’s a pretty good tournament and there are some good teams out there. So, we’re settled in and want to go win this thing.”

With Madsen on fire, the Utes built an 18-point lead and went into halftime ahead 48-36. Iowa made several second-half rallies but never got within eight points.

“We are playing a lot better … with a lot more rhythm,” said Smith. “It was a good win for us. We did a lot of things right.”

Certainly, Utah is a different team at home, where they are 16-2 this season, compared to 2-9 on opponent’s courts and 3-3 on neutral sites.

Madsen showed his preference, making 7-of-15 three-pointers. Most of them came on simple catch-and-shoot opportunities that he lofted so quickly that Iowa couldn’t defend.

Guard Deivon Smith also had a nice game, with 19 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Branden Carlson moved into fifth place in Utah’s all-time scoring list with a 12-point night and fellow 7-footer Lawson Lovering was a force with six points, 10 rebounds and five assists.

Each player had their favorite moments, but the most-noticeable factor explaining the win was that Utah was the aggressor and didn’t make many silly mistakes.

Utah, which is the Pac-12′s worst free-throw shooting team, was even 7-7 from the line in the first half. Most of those shots came from Madsen, who made two straight “Hail Mary” treys while barely looking at the basket. On his next two attempts, he was fouled and crumpled to the ground as the crowd cheered. He got up and was awarded three free throws — and made all six.

“He’s a gym rat and he’s been working hard all season,” joked Smith. “I’ll have to tell him to take tomorrow off. Otherwise, he’ll be in here practicing in the morning.”

Madsen said the key was getting passes near his “breadbasket.” In fact, several of Smith’s assists came on his three-pointers.

“We’re playing hard and coming together,” Madsen said. “We know if we lose, our season is over. Our guys are super focused and enjoying the extra time we have.”

The Utes know little about their next opponent, VCU, but coach Smith said with three days to prepare, it’s much like how they dealt with the Pac-12 regular season and feels more familiar.

Iowa, meanwhile, saw its season end with a 19-15 record.

The Hawkeyes were led by Patrick McCaffery’s 19 points, while Josh Dix had 14. Ben Krikke, Brock Harding and Owen Freeman had 12.