The Utah men’s basketball team gave the more than 6,000 people in attendance at the Huntsman Center on Wednesday night an unforgettable sendoff, and in the process the Utes’ postseason march lives on.

The Utes never trailed in winning their third straight NIT game at the Huntsman, beating VCU 74-54 in the tournament’s quarterfinals.

That locks up a spot in the NIT semifinals for Utah, with a matchup against Indiana State next Tuesday (5 p.m. MDT, ESPN) at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

“We’re in a pretty good rhythm right now. I thought our execution was really on point and we really followed our game plan very well,” Utah coach Craig Smith said.

3 keys to Utah’s lopsided win over VCU in the NIT quarterfinals

Utah started both halves strong — the Utes went up 18-2 in the first half as they made 7 of 11 field goals to start the game.

In the second half, after taking a 36-26 lead into the break, Utah scored 11 of the half’s first 13 to push its lead out to 47-28.

That was more than enough for the Utes to put away the Rams.

Utah continued to click on both ends, as they have throughout the NIT. For the third straight game, the Runnin’ Utes (22-14) finished with 20-plus assists, this time 21 on 28 made field goals.

“Obviously the second half we were really cooking,” Smith said. “I mean, I thought we really guarded very, very well, made things very difficult for them. Really got our transition game going.”

Deivon Smith posted his second straight triple-double — eliciting a large cheer from the crowd when his 10th rebound sealed it — and fifth of the season with 15 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds, while adding four steals.

He broke the Pac-12 record for triple-doubles in a single season, previously held by Jason Kidd, and is just one short of the NCAA record, held by BYU’s Kyle Collinsworth.

3 takeaways

Top performers: Deivon Smith secured his fifth triple-double of the season and second straight with 15 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds, while adding four steals.

Branden Carlson, in his final game in the Huntsman Center, had 17 points, three 3-pointers, three rebounds and three assists.

Gabe Madsen hit six 3-pointers — he’s made 13 in the past two games — and scored a team-high 18 points.

Former Utah State star Sean Bairstow led the Rams with 13 points and four rebounds.

Key stretch: Utah never trailed in the game after getting out to an 18-2 lead. The Utes made 7 of 11 field goals to start the game, and that included four 3-pointers.

3-point shooting and assists: Utah made 13 of 33 3-pointers, including 7 of 16 in the first half. VCU, meanwhile, hit 5 of 26 from long range.

The Utes also finished with 21 assists on 28 made field goals.

Just imagine if he’d played the first nine games, when Deivon Smith sat while the two-time transfer waited to become eligible to play.

“Honestly before games, it didn’t mean anything. But tonight, I really wanted to break (the record), especially at home,” Deivon Smith said.

“I really wanted it tonight but my teammates, these guys — Gabe, BC, Cole (Bajema), whoever’s out on the floor — they just go to their spots. They’re running with me. We’re talking on the court, and it just makes my job way easier and I’m sure it helps them as well. I just feel like we’re super connected right now and we’re playing our best basketball.”

Branden Carlson, who had a 30-point, 10-rebound double-double when the Utes held Senior Night more than three weeks ago, again came up big in what was his final game at the Huntsman.

He started the night off with a 3-pointer and scored 17 points on 7 of 13 shooting while hitting three 3s. Carlson also had three rebounds, three assists and a steal.

“These are memories of a lifetime,” Craig Smith said.

“... Super happy for Branden, so glad he could be able to go out like that at home. I mean we want to play two more games, but to be able to go home, to be able to take care of business and earn that victory in the fashion that we did and the way he played was just tremendous.”

Gabe Madsen, one game after scoring a career-high 31 points and hitting seven 3-pointers in a win over Iowa, made six 3-pointers against VCU and finished the night with a team-high 18 points.

“I think this team is one of the most connected teams I’ve been on and everybody just enjoys each other’s presence,” Madsen said. “So to be able to keep playing, it’s just great.”

Utah’s 3-point shooting proved the deciding factor in the game, as the Utes made 13 of 33, including 7 of 16 in the first half.

Deivon Smith nailed a 3 at the first-half buzzer to send the team into break with a 10-point lead.

It came against a VCU team that was allowing opponents to only make 31% of their 3-point shots.

“I think the biggest thing was us attacking the paint when we got it inside. They really want to get in and block shots down there, they collapse the paint hard,” Carlson said. “So when we got it inside, it was just those kick outs were open and they’d have long close outs. I think we did a really good job of getting in and playing off two feet and you know, find the open man on the perimeter.”

VCU, even after the slow start, managed to make a game of it for a while and pulled within 23-20 with 5:57 left in the first half.

That was as close as the Utes would let them get, though.

First, Carlson nailed a 3-pointer, pushing the lead back out to 26-20.

On VCU’s next possession, the Rams’ Roosevelt Wheeler was called for an offensive foul on a moving screen.

Madsen then hit a fadeaway 3 and was fouled. Even though he missed the free threw after a media timeout, Utah had quickly got itself back up nine and rolled from there.

“We were able to right the ship late in the half,” Craig Smith said.

Madsen broke the school record for 3-pointers in a season, and he now has 103 on the year.

“He’s starting to really get into a rhythm of the game,” Craig Smith said of Madsen, who has made 16 3s alone during the NIT.

The Utah coach praised his team for taking care of a VCU squad that came into the game having won five of six and was led by Sean Bairstow, the former Utah State star who had 13 points and four rebounds.

The Rams shot just 32.8% in the game and 5 of 26 from 3-point range.

“I’m so happy, so proud of our team and just the way we competed today,” Craig Smith said. “It was just tremendous in so many facets and you know, congrats to VCU and Coach (Ryan) Odom. These guys were playing incredibly well coming into tonight, winning five out of six and really gained a ton of momentum late in the season.”

“We had an amazing turnout of fans, so thank you to all those guys for coming out and supporting. Their energy was amazing tonight. It was a great last game here.”

—  Utah center Branden Carlson

The appreciative crowd also gave Carlson a huge cheer when he subbed out at the Huntsman Center for the final time with 1:32 remaining.

“We had a great mindset coming out tonight. Everyone competed really hard and VCU is a great team,” Carlson said. “... We had an amazing turnout of fans, so thank you to all those guys for coming out and supporting. Their energy was amazing tonight. It was a great last game here.”

With the win, Utah keeps its season alive. Destination Indianapolis, with a championship still in play.

“It’s a historic arena. It should be an excellent environment,” Craig Smith said.