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Utah Men’s Basketball Falls to Indiana State in NIT Semifinals

Unfortunately for Utah, the comeback effort led by Smith was not enough, as the Utes would fall 100-90, ending their season in the NIT Semifinals.
Utah+forward+Ben+Carlson+%281%29+versus+the+UC+Irvine+Anteaters+at+the+Jon+M.+Huntsman+Center+in+Salt+Lake+City+on+Tuesday%2C+March+19%2C+2024.+%28Photo+by+Xiangyao+%E2%80%9CAxe%E2%80%9D+Tang+%7C+The+Daily+Utah+Chronicle%29
Xiangyao Tang
Utah forward Ben Carlson (1) versus the UC Irvine Anteaters at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, March 19, 2024. (Photo by Xiangyao “Axe” Tang | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

 

Both teams came into this matchup hungry for a spot in the NIT finals, but the spectacular offensive performance by the Indiana State Sycamores was too much to overcome for Utah, as they fell 100-90. The Utes fought valiantly throughout this one, knocking down a season-high 17 3-pointers, but the Sycamores’ hot shooting and timely defensive steps posed problems for Utah down the stretch. The impressive play by Utah throughout this tournament will not go to waste, however, as Utah will head into the offseason looking to build off their encouraging post-season run.

First Half

Entering the matchup, Indiana State came in averaging 10.9 3-pointers made per game, ranking fourth in the entire country. While Utah isn’t quite as reliant on the deep ball as the Sycamores, they are still averaging 9.1 3-pointers made per game, good for 36th in the country.

As many might have expected, both teams were letting the 3-point bombs fly early. The Utes ball distribution was incredibly efficient in the first half, as six different players knocked down 3-pointers, bringing the team total to eight heading into halftime. Indiana State stayed right around their first half-season average, knocking down five threes to help keep this game close. When the first half was all said and done, the score would be locked even at 44 as both teams were able to flash their explosive offenses.

The beginning of this game was all Sycamores, as they opened up an early 17-7 lead with 14:13 remaining in the half. Utah would not go away, however, as back-to-back 3-pointers from Ben Carlson and Gabe Madsen cut the deficit to just four in less than a minute.

Indiana State plays one of the fastest-paced offenses in the nation, relying on isolation transition buckets, which caused problems for the Utes defensively. The Sycamores again opened up their lead at 26-15, but a Keba Keita layup followed by back-to-back Hunter Erickson buckets made it a six-point game with 9:27 to go in the half.

Both teams exchanged buckets back and forth until an offensive explosion for Utah was finished off by an acrobatic Deivon Smith layup, giving Utah a 34-33 lead. Cole Bajema was quiet at the onset of this game, but a 3-pointer and two free throws at the end of the half helped tie this game at 44 apiece heading into the locker room.

The scoring distribution was infectious for the Utes early on, as six different players scored five or more points, led by Smith and Bajema with nine apiece. Branden Carlson followed closely behind with eight points on two 3-pointers. Ben Carlson was also able to knock down two 3-pointers off the bench for six points, while Madsen and Erickson each chipped in five.

Second Half

The second half began with both teams trading blows until Indiana State slowly started to build their lead, taking a 59-54 lead with just 12:43 to go in the game. Utah continued to score consistently but could not get any stops on defense as the Sycamores capitalized on the defensive lapses of the Utes. With 9:25 to go, Indiana State opened up an eight-point advantage, their biggest lead of the half.

Smith was incredible throughout the entirety of this game and continued to dominate on offense, keeping the Utes in this game. Despite the hot shooting of Indiana State, a Smith 3-pointer, followed by another from Madsen, closed the deficit to 71-66 with 8:21 to go.

Indiana State seemingly had an answer for every Utah run, however, as a quick 12-3 spurt by the Sycamores pushed their lead to 14 with very little time for the Utes to close the gap. Smith continued to try and will his team to victory, hitting three 3-pointers on three consecutive possessions down the stretch. Unfortunately for Utah, the comeback effort led by Smith was not enough, as the Utes would fall 100-90, ending their season in the NIT semifinals.

Utes Stuffing the Stat Sheet

Smith continued to shine in this matchup, putting up a career 28 points, six assists and seven rebounds while knocking down six 3-pointers on 6-6 shooting. The career night for Smith was not enough to give Utah a victory, but it was an impressive performance nonetheless. Carlson’s era sadly came to an end tonight as he finished his final game as a Ute with 17 points and five rebounds. Bajema played very well in this one, scoring 14 points, while Madsen chipped in eight to round out the scoring from the Ute starters. As for the Utah Reserves, Erickson came off the bench and poured in 10 points, while Ben Carlson was able to score 11 on 3-4 from 3-point range.

What’s Next for the Utes?

Unfortunately for Utah, today marked the final game of the year as they fell short in the NIT semifinals. The Utes will look to build off of their improved season compared to last year in hopes of competing for a Big 12 championship next year. This upcoming offseason is a big one for the future of the program, and the Utah faithful should be excited about what is yet to come for this team.

 

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@Kylegarr23

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About the Contributors
Kyle Garrison, Sports Writer
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.
Xiangyao Tang, Photo Director
Axe is a photographer and the photo director of the Daily Utah Chronicle. He is from China and is a senior majoring in computer science and minoring in digital photography. Axe joined the Chronicle in August of 2021. In addition to his position at the Chrony, he is also a photo intern for University of Utah Athletics. When he's not writing code, you will find him rock climbing, camping, skiing or hiking with his camera.

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