Upset central

By By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

The U men’s basketball team found itself in a familiar place after 35 minutes at the Huntsman Center last night. Like the majority of their games thus far, the Runnin’ Utes were leading (58-53) with five minutes to go. Unlike most of the other games, Utah was able to protect their lead down the stretch this time, knocking off No. 11 Air Force (17-2, 4-1 MWC), 85-79.

“We’ve been struggling a little bit down the stretch this season and you always have to worry about a comeback with a team like that, so we knew we had to keep playing,” U center Luke Nevill said.

But the Utes (6-12, 1-4 MWC) didn’t give up their lead. Not this time.

Nevill took advantage of his height to go a perfect 8-for-8 from the field and score 18 points. The 7-foot-1 Aussie also reached over the Falcons for a team-best 10 rebounds.

Nevill was one of five Utes with more than 13 points. U point guard Johnnie Bryant tied for the team-high in scoring 18 points and was 4-for-6 shooting from behind the three-point line.

Meanwhile, Shaun Green was his usual self, shooting 5-for-7 from the field to score 15 points.

Ricky Johns and Lawrence Borha both came off the bench with impressive performances, hitting for 14 and 13 points, respectively. Johns was particularly effective from the line down the stretch, making 8-for-9 free throws in the last five minutes.

“We had a number of different people step up for us tonight,” U coach Ray Giacoletti said. “L.B. (Lawrence Borha) made some shots when we really needed them, Ricky Johns was pretty consistent and Luka Drca has been playing well too.”

The win couldn’t have come at a better time for the Utes, who were in the middle of a five-game slide and had yet to win a conference game.

“I’m really proud of our guys,” Giacoletti said. “They kept believing and never pointed fingers. From start to finish, we were pretty darn solid.”

Utah controlled the tempo of the game from the start, never trailing the highly touted Falcons. But the Utes gave the home crowd a scare in the second half, allowing numerous open Falcon three-pointers to drop through the net before time expired.

“I’ve had that feeling of teams coming back quite a bit recently, but it just kind of felt right tonight,” Giacoletti said. “That ending took forever to play out, though.”

The Utes may have to pinch themselves in the upcoming days just to make sure they pulled out the upset victory against the Falcons. They don’t have too much time to relish their surprise victory though, as they play host to another Mountain West Conference foe this Saturday in Wyoming.

“This feels like a turnaround for us,” Nevill said. “You don’t get too many chances to play against a ranked team like this and for us to come out with a win was huge.”