Making a comeback

By By Cody Brunner and By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

It played out more like a marathon than a basketball game. The Runnin’ Utes battled back and forth with New Mexico for nearly three hours and two overtimes, but when all was said and done, two foul shots from Utah’s Luke Nevill with 2.4 seconds left capped off a 93-91 win.

The shots were especially sweet for the Aussie considering that he missed two free throws at the end of the first overtime that would have won it.

“I’ve been practicing my foul shots and had confidence that I could make them,” Nevill said. “Missing those free throws the first time made me mad, but I think I made up for it.”

The 7-foot-1 center had suffered a right hip pointer earlier in the week and was unsure whether or not he would be able to play against the Lobos. But coach Ray Giacoletti made the decision to play him and it paid off with a win.

“Being away for a week, it’s hard to get back into a rhythm,” Giacoletti said. “But (Nevill) really stepped up when we needed him to tonight.”

After leading by two (36-34) at the midway point, the Utes succumbed to a 16-6 Lobo run thanks to some sharp shooting from Darren Prentice.

Johnnie Bryant responded later in the period with some long-range shots of his own, scoring 13 consecutive points for the Utes to close the gap to one (64-63) with just more than two minutes left in regulation.

Following a layup from New Mexico’s Daniel Faris, Shaun Green hit a deep three from the left angle to tie the game at 66.

“Shaun (Green) does all of the little things and it always seems like when we need someone to step up, he’s the one to do it,” Giacoletti said.

A pair of Ricky Johns’ free throws gave the Utes a two-point lead with 27.4 seconds left, but a clutch jump shot from the Lobos’ Tony Danridge sent the game to overtime.

The Runnin’ Utes kept pace with New Mexico throughout the first overtime period thanks to solid foul shooting. But with less than 35 seconds left, Nevill’s two free throw attempts went awry.

“I don’t know what happened,” Nevill said. “There must have been some dew on the ball or something.”

But that moisture didn’t stop Nevill from making his foul shots the second time around, and the result was the Utes’ fifth conference win.

Bryant led the Utes on the night with 23 points on 8-for-12 shooting while teammate Shaun Green pitched in 21. Green also grabbed 10 rebounds and dished out six assists in the winning effort.

Despite the victory, the Utes allowed New Mexico to shoot a blistering 63 percent from behind the arc. Prentice ended up leading the Lobos with 28 points and four rebounds while teammate Chad Toppert scored 20. The two combined to shoot 11-for-17 from the three-point line.

“We knew coming in that those two could shoot the three, but they got a few open looks and hit them when it counted,” Giacoletti said. “We need to improve defensively.”

Despite their shortcomings, the Utes had plenty to be happy about following their win. They shot an impressive 56 percent from the field and fought back from a 10-point deficit in regulation to tie it, then won it in double overtime.

“I’m proud of the way these guys fought tonight,” Giacoletti said. “We showed a lot of guts and courage to come back from that deficit.”

The Utes won’t have too long to savor their victory. They lace up their tennis shoes for their last home game tomorrow night against San Diego State.