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Utah Men’s Basketball Advance to NIT Semifinals in Historic Final Home Game

The Runnin’ Utes will now head to the Hinkle Field House in Indianapolis to take on the Indiana State Sycamores on Tuesday, April 2 at 5:00 p.m. MST.
Mary Allen
University of Utah Men’s Basketball player Gabe Madsen (55) in the game vs. the Colorado Buffaloes on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024, at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City. (Photo by Mary Allen | The Daily Utah Chronicle)


The Utah men’s basketball team (22-14, 9-11 Pac-12) came into this game with a lot on the line as they fought for a chance to advance to the NIT semifinals. For senior forward Branden Carlson, this was his last time playing in front of the Huntsman Center crowd, but hopefully not his last game in a Utah uniform.

Utah got off to a scalding hot start, opening up an early 16-point lead, and never looked back as they knocked down 13 three-pointers compared to just five for VCU. The Utes held a 36-26 lead heading into halftime and continued to add to their lead throughout the final 20 minutes as they came away with a dominating win, 74-54.

First Half

The Runnin’ Utes opened up the first half on an 18-2 run in the first seven minutes, absolutely pouncing on the Rams early with two three-pointers apiece from Gabe Madsen and Carlson. Defensive pressure was the story early on, as the ball pressure by the Utah backcourt and the length inside were too much to handle for VCU throughout the first seven minutes. The Rams scored just two points during Utah’s explosive start, opening up a sizable lead for the home team.

Despite the quick start for Utah, VCU is a storied program and didn’t back down without a fight. The Rams were able to answer the early Utah run, closing the deficit to 19-13 with 9:21 remaining. After Utah seemingly couldn’t miss during the initial minutes of the game, the offense came back down to earth, scoring just four points in five minutes of action. Utah wasted no time breaking their scoring drought as two more three-pointers by Carlson and Madsen helped grow Utah’s lead back to 29-20 at the 4:01 mark of the first half.

Both teams exchanged baskets down the stretch of the first half until a Deivon Smith drive and layup, followed by a beautiful step-back jumper to beat the first-half buzzer, propelled the Utes to a 36-26 halftime lead.

VCU came into this game as one of the better defensive teams in the country, allowing just 66.5 points per game, but the Utah offense was just too much for the Rams to handle as they put up 36 points in the first half alone. Utah’s defensive effort was the difference maker during the scoring lulls the offense saw late in the first half, as they held VCU to just 31.0% from the field and 27.3% from three-point range. The Utes defense kept the Rams from gaining any momentum throughout the first half, which was a big contributor to the 10-point halftime lead.

VCU struggled defensively at the onset of this matchup as Utah shot 42.4% from the field and 43.8% from three, scoring 36 points, all by Utah starters. Carlson and Madsen were the offensive catalysts in the first half, as Carlson scored 11 points and Madsen poured in nine, while both were able to knock down three shots apiece from beyond the three-point arc. The triple-double machine, Smith, continued to fill up the box score as he scored seven points, grabbed six rebounds and dished out five assists to pace the Utah backcourt. Lawson Lovering had a solid first half with four points and six rebounds, while Cole Bajema scored four points to round out the Utah scoring.

Second Half

The Utes tend to get a slow start out of halftime, but that was not the case through the initial four minutes of the second half. Smith started the second half similarly to how he finished the first, knocking down a three-point bomb on a beautiful kick by Carlson off the VCU double team. The focus VCU had on Carlson defensively opened up the entire Utah playbook as Madsen continued to find open shots, knocking down two three-pointers to give Utah a commanding 47-28 lead with 16:08 remaining.

VCU started to gain some traction offensively, but Smith’s playmaking ability was simply too much to handle. Smith was able to get into the paint and find open guys on almost every possession as he found Bajema for three and Keba Keita for a dunk on consecutive possessions, extending the Utah lead to 24. At this point in the game, Utah needed a couple stops and scores to have a trip to the NIT semifinals all but locked up, and that is exactly what they managed to do. With 7:54 remaining, a Madsen three-point dagger gave Utah a 68-40 lead and essentially closed the game out.

The final minutes of the game saw both teams empty their benches as the Utah lead was deemed insurmountable by VCU head coach Ryan Odom and staff. The Utes led this game from start to finish and played one of the most complete games offensively and defensively thus far this season. The Utes never slowed down on either side of the ball for the entirety of the game, en route to a 20-point victory over a very respectable VCU team.

Utes Stuffing the Stat Sheet

Utah was led by Smith, who scored 15 points on just 11 shots, grabbed 11 hard-fought rebounds and put on a facilitation clinic with 12 assists—good enough to secure his fifth triple-double of the year. In the last year of Pac-12 basketball, Smith passed Jason Kidd’s four triple-doubles in 1993-1994 to set the Pac-12 single-season record. Smith is now just one triple-double shy of tying the record for the most triple-doubles throughout a season in men’s college basketball history and will have at least one more game to accomplish this extraordinary feat.

Carlson finished his final game in the Huntsman Center with 17 points to go with three rebounds. Carlson ended his coveted Utah career with the most blocks in school history, and will undeniably go down as one of the greatest in Utah history.

Madsen has been absolutely on fire thus far during the NIT, as he followed up his 31-point performance on seven three-pointers a few nights ago with 18 points on six threes this evening.

The rest of the Utah scoring came from Keita off the bench with eight points, seven from Bajema and six from Lovering. Hunter Erickson was also able to get himself into the scoring column with three points as well.

What’s next for the Utes?

Utah survives and advances, as they will now head to the historic Hinkle Field House in Indianapolis to take on the Indiana State Sycamores. The NIT semifinal matchup will take place on Tuesday, April 2 at 5:00 p.m. MST and will decide who advances to the championship. Don’t miss any of the semifinal action next Tuesday on ESPN.


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About the Contributors
Kyle Garrison
Kyle Garrison, Assistant Sports Editor
Kyle garrison grew up in Spring Lake, Michigan. He moved to Salt Lake City to pursue a degree in communications with an emphasis in journalism. Kyle plans on pursuing broadcast journalism as a career once graduating from the University of Utah. Kyle started with the Chronicle this fall and has loved every minute of working with the team.
Mary Allen
Mary Allen, Design Director
(she/her) Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Mary is thrilled to be here at the University of Utah studying graphic design. She feels very lucky to get to rub shoulders with the talented people that make up the team here at the Chronicle and is learning a lot from them every day. Other than making things look cute, Mary’s passions include music, pickleball, Diet Coke, wildlife protection, and the Boston Red Sox.

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