A light at the end of the tunnel: Men’s basketball starting to see signs of life as road losses pile up

As with many young squads in any sport, the Runnin’ Utes are finding success at home while struggling mightily on the road.

Following Saturday’s 72-60 defeat at BYU, the Utes are 1-4 away from the Huntsman Center, while boasting a 7-1 record at home. The only win the Utes have on the road thus far is a 67-62 overtime win over Weber State-a team that is currently 6-9.

While the trend is hardly encouraging with seven road games still to come, a few good signs came out of the Provo setback. Instead of folding when they fell behind-as they did in blowout losses to Arizona, Washington State and Colorado-the Utes nearly came back from a double-digit deficit before BYU finally pulled away at the end.

The Utes hope that keeping their heads up against the Cougars will lead to actual wins down the road.

“I think we’re getting closer,” Ute guard Chris Grant said. “It’s easier at home when the crowd is behind you, helping you get a defensive stop. It’s just a few things that we need to do before we can get to that next level and win on the road and be competitive in conference.”

Another bright spot in the rivalry loss is who stepped up for Utah. The Utes’ three leading scorers Saturday were two freshmen and a sophomore, all of whom are playing their first season of NCAA basketball.

Sophomore guard Johnnie Bryant posted a career-high 23 points against BYU, a marked improvement over the last two road games, in which Bryant scored five points at Colorado and two against Washington State.

Freshman center Luke Nevill posted 14 points, his most in a game outside of scoring 19 in a triple overtime loss at Rice. Nevill has actually excelled away from home, averaging 12.4 points on the road compared with 7.0 at the Huntsman Center.

Shaun Green, a true freshman forward, contributed two second-half three-pointers en route to six points and five rebounds, all while being saddled with foul trouble.

The result was a near-win at the team’s biggest rival without a full effort from senior forward Bryant Markson, who was stricken with flu-like symptoms. The good show by the youngsters and a full 40-minute effort by the veterans gives hope to a team that has thus far fallen short of preseason predictions that had them finishing second in the MWC.

“Everybody played hard tonight,” Markson said after the BYU game. “Last time we played on the road, we got blown out. Tonight it was a close game and we showed effort throughout.”

The Utes’ next opportunity to get a win on the road comes Saturday, when they go to Fort Collins for a meeting with Colorado State. Utah hasn’t lost at CSU since the 2000-2001 season.

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