In a game that helped set up the University of Utah men’s basketball team (2-0) for what’s expected to be a grueling schedule in the upcoming days — four games in eight nights — the Utes hosted Mississippi Valley State (0-2) on Monday evening where they exploded for a 91-51 victory over the Delta Devils. Utah was without Sedrick Barefield, who was out with a stomach virus, and his absence gave other Utes the opportunity to see more time on the court.
“I thought tonight it was important to try to get some guys that haven’t been playing extended minutes. I think it was a great conditioner for them and getting comfortable,” said head coach Larry Krystkowiak. “We’re going to need those guys in the mix and figure out what our rotation is. It was an opportunity for some of the starters to get some rest as well.”
The first half belonged to the Runnin’ Utes as they nearly doubled Mississippi Valley’s score at the half, 41-21. The Utes started the game on a 12-0 run with shots falling for Tyler Rawson, David Collette, Justin Bibbins and Kolbe Caldwell. Rawson connected with Bealer, who drilled one from downtown to give the Utes momentum. Bealer finished the night 7-of-10 from the field and 6-of-8 from the 3-point line for a career-high 20 points.
“He’s been shooting the ball real well, playing with a lot of confidence,” Krystkowiak said. “And then [he] made some improvements I thought even on the defensive end.”
After 20 minutes of action, Utah had found its way to the free throw line 11 times and connected on 10 of those attempts as its opponent went 0-for-2 from the free throw line.
While there were positive takeaways from the game, Krystkowiak said the one area on the stat sheet that disappointed him was the 16 turnovers his team stacked up — eight each half.
“We got a little sloppy, once again,” Krystkowiak said. “That can’t be our achilles’ heel. We got to be really secure with the ball. … When you get into some games that have a fine line and a smaller margin of error, that can’t be focal point for us where we’re worried about turning the ball over.”
Dunks and 3-pointers made up the second half. Collette rocked the rim to extend Utah’s lead, 43-25 before Bealer caught fire and drained three 3-pointers. His success from behind the arc was contagious as Bibbins quickly added a bucket for three more points.
“The rim was just really big, and I was just comfortable out there,” Bealer said. “I made one and just kept shooting.”
In its season opener, it took Utah time to figure out how to go up against a full court press, but when Mississippi State presented that look, it worked in the Utes’ favor. The Delta Devils lost track of Caldwell who was waiting down near the hoop as he added an easy bucket.
On the Utes’ next couple of possessions, Rawson added a few points off a dunk, layup and a free throw. Donnie Tillman went on to drop a few buckets, and Chris Seeley showed off air with a pair of dunks before the night came to a close.
Up next for the Runnin’ Utes, they’ll welcome in Michael Porter Jr. and Mizzou Tigers to the Huntsman Center for a showdown on Thursday, Nov. 16 at 6 p.m.