Men’s Hoops: Midnight stand (3/14)

By By Cody Brunner and By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

LAS VEGAS — When in doubt, give it to the tallest guy on the floor.

Utah head coach Jim Boylen followed that mentality down the stretch in No. 6 seed Utah’s overtime upset win over the No. 3 seed New Mexico Lobos. The Utes gave the ball to center Luke Nevill on virtually every possession, and the Utes left the Thomas & Mack Center with an 82-80 overtime win early Friday morning.

“I just tried to go up strong and just tried to dunk the ball every single time,” Nevill said. “My teammates told me that. They said, ‘You’re the biggest guy on the court, you need to dominate inside. I just tried to have the heart and just competed.”

Utah nearly suffered another heartbreaking loss to the Lobos as it saw an eight-point lead disappear in the final four minutes of regulation. New Mexico’s Chad Toppert tied the game with a pair of clutch free throws with just under 12 seconds remaining, but the Utes still had the last shot.

But as has been the case multiple times this year, Utah couldn’t get organized in time to win take a last-second lead. The end result was a Luka Drca turnover with one second left. New Mexico’s last-second shot fell harmlessly short.

In overtime, New Mexico’s J.R. Giddens and Nevill provided plenty of entertainment as the two traded dunks. In the end, it was Nevill who had the last laugh. The Aussie blocked a crucial shot attempt with less than 10 seconds left and New Mexico was forced to foul Utah’s Lawrence Borha with five ticks left on the clock.

Borha made his second free throw to give the Utes a two-point lead and Giddens’ driving scope shot attempt bounced off the rim to preserve Utah’s victory.

“I guess that’s why they call it March Madness,” Boylen said. “It’s up and down, it’s an emotional rollercoaster.”

Nevill finished the game with a team-high 26 points and eight rebounds. Giddens ended up with 28 points and 17 rebounds.

The Utes dug themselves into a hole early in the opening half. With most of the attention on Giddens, New Mexico’s Dairese Gary hit a pair of 3-pointers and the Lobos jumped out to an early 12-3 lead. When the Utes adjusted to Gary, Giddens took advantage. The MWC Co-Player of the Year electrified the crowd with a pair of dunks, one on an alley-oop pass from Gary.

The Utes eventually put the clamps on Giddens and piece together a few nice plays of their own. Down 32-25, Nevill keyed a 13-4 Utah run just before the half. The Aussie finished the opening half with 12 points and six rebounds, despite playing only 12 minutes. The Utes carried a 40-37 lead into the break.

The Utes carried that momentum into the second half, opening it up with a 10-4 run to distance themselves from the Lobos. New Mexico battled back with a pair of Roman Martinez free throws to cut the Utah lead to three, but the Utes went on an 8-0 run to put them up 60-49 with just over 10 minutes left.

The Lobos again trimmed the Utah lead to three points with just under five minutes to play thanks to a Giddens driving layup. The attack also gave Nevill his fourth foul of the game.

Unlike Utah’s first meeting with New Mexico that also went to overtime, Nevill managed to stay in the game and provided Utah’s offensive punch in overtime.

“I thought maybe giving them a layup would be less costly for us than me being out of the game,” Nevill said. “I was a bit passive on the defensive end. I just knew they needed me there for the offense and they needed me there for the rebounding.”

Utah will now face No. 2 seed UNLV on its home floor in the semifinals. Tipoff is scheduled for 10:05 p.m. MT.

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Tyler Cobb

Luke Nevill led the Utes in thier upset victory with 26 points.