The storyline might have been different had the University of Utah men’s basketball team (3-0) faced Missouri (2-1) with its highly talked about and potential No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft, Michael Porter Jr. — but that wasn’t the case. Porter didn’t travel with the Tigers due to an injury, and there’s no doubt Mizzou felt his absence on the court as Utah won 77-59 on Thursday night.
“You didn’t see the best performance by that team. They’re a good basketball team and they’re going to only be enhanced when they get that young man in the roster, but we didn’t talk about it,” said head coach Larry Krystkowiak. “Whether he played or not, we had the same plan in place.”
While the Tigers were down a man, the Utes got two back. They welcomed Sedrick Barefield, who had been out with an illness, and Jayce Johnson, who hadn’t yet played this season because of a foot injury, to the court. Five Utes, including Johnson, finished the night with 10 or more points. David Collette went 5-of-13 from the field and 1-of-2 from deep for 17 points, Tyler Rawson went 5-of-9 and 2-of-6 from 3-point territory for a total 12 points, Donnie Tillman put up a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds and Gabe Bealer finished with 10 points.
As a team, Utah shot 46 percent from the field and 32.1 percent from downtown, but it wasn’t until a few minutes into the game before the Utes started adding numbers to the buckets side and not the shots taken category.
The Utah defense came out ready to play, but neither Mizzou’s or Utah’s offense could get the ball through the hoop, going 0-for-10 between the two teams. Justin Bibbins got the points going with a layup at the 16:55 mark in the first half.
Rawson said he knows that sometimes when shots aren’t falling that can cause trouble for the team on the other end of the floor, but he and Krystkowiak were pleased with how they stuck to their defense and were able to get something going on the offense.
“We were missing open looks. They were missing open looks,” Krystkowiak said. “And what really broke the game open was we started making some shots.”
The Utah defense held the Tigers to shooting 1-for-14 and 0-for-8 from the 3-point line up until 7:29 left to go in the half when Reed Nikko made a layup. Until then, their only other points had come off free throws where they were 6-for-6. At the half, Utah led 35-19.
“The first two games we’ve had, we haven’t played bigs like we have against Missouri,” Rawson said. “I think we stepped up to the challenge with all of our guys. We had a great double team plan for them in the post, and we executed it really well.”
The second half had a different feel to it than the start of the game. Utah’s offense came out with more energy as Bealer and Bibbins quickly put points on the board. The Utes biggest lead came in that half when they were up by 25 points with 12:14 left on the clock. Johnson finished the Utes’ scoring with a layup before Mizzou hit two free throws and a 3-pointer to close the game.
“Our key was focusing on the defense and the rebounding,” Krystkowiak said. “And a lot of times the offense will take care of itself, and it did.”
Up next, the Utes will head to Las Vegas, Nevada to participate in the MGM Resorts Main Event on Monday, Nov. 20 at 10:30 p.m. against Ole Miss. They will then play Wednesday, Nov. 22 against either Rice or UNLV. Time TBD.