SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Youth and inexperience led to inconsistency for Utah on both ends of the court in the team’s first two games. Now the Utes seem to be turning a corner.
Utah built a sustained rhythm on offense and defense for the better part of 40 minutes in a 98-63 victory over Mississippi Valley State on Thursday night. It wasn’t just about getting stops or knocking down shots. The Utes did plenty of both at every important juncture.
“Guys are really gaining confidence,” sophomore forward Donnie Tillman said. “Dudes are learning plays and learning where to be defensively. One thing I’m proud of is our communication. Everyone was talking tonight.”
Parker Van Dyke scored 16 points off the bench to lead Utah. Timmy Allen finished with 13 points, six rebounds, and three assists. Tillman tallied 12 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
The Utes (2-1) have won 11 straight regular season nonconference home games dating back to the 2016-17 season.
Dante Scott scored 16 points to lead the Delta Devils (0-4). Mississippi Valley State leading scorer Jordan Evans scored just two points after going 0 of 11 from the field. Evans averaged 19.0 points over his first three games.
Utah wasted no time putting Mississippi Valley State on its heels. Behind a 14-4 run, punctuated by back-to-back 3-pointers from Riley Battin and Van Dyke, the Utes carved out a 19-9 lead.
The Delta Devils cut the deficit in half on baskets from Michael Green and Aleska Koracin. They had a chance to make it a one-possession game, but Gregory Holloway missed an open layup. Vante Hendrix quickly answered by burying a transition 3-pointer on the other end. Tillman followed up with a long-distance basket of his own and then set up Van Dyke for a layup, pushing Utah’s lead to 27-14.
Mississippi Valley State rallied a second time before halftime. The Delta Devils cut it to 37-30 on Emmanuel Ejeh’s jumper. Utah scored baskets on six straight possessions as part of a 15-0 run. Battin and Van Dyke each contributed a pair of baskets to fuel the run. Once Van Dyke finished it off by driving for a layup, Utah led 52-30 with 1:21 remaining before halftime.
For Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, the decisive spurt all started with his players embracing a defensive attitude and not letting shooting percentages dictate their effort.
“It’s really in the details of executing, sharing the ball, having your defensive (mindset),” Krystkowiak said. “Sometimes you want to make a big picture out of it and try to figure out what took place, but it’s just about winning that next possession.”
The Utes shot 55.6 percent from the field in the first half — including 8 of 15 from 3-point range. Their hot shooting continued into the second half when they led by 20 points or more the entire way.
Mississippi Valley State: For one half, the Delta Devils showed some tenacity and hung around with the Utes. Their inability to stop random quick spurts from the Utah offense finally caught up with them by halftime. Like other SWAC teams, plenty more tough games lie ahead before conference play.
Utah: The Utes worked some kinks out of their offense with an easy win over an overmatched opponent after struggling with long scoring droughts against Minnesota earlier in the week. Utah will need offensive production to stay consistent if it hopes to make a splash at the Wooden Legacy tournament over Thanksgiving weekend.
Utah tied a school record set in 2002 against UNLV by making 17 3-pointers. Reserve forward Brandon Morley helped the Utes match the record on the second of back-to-back 3-pointers with 2:13 left.
The Utes tried to break the record, but Brooks King misfired on a 3-point basket a minute later. It didn’t sit well with Mississippi Valley State coach Andre Payne who stared down Krystkowiak in the final seconds. The Utah coach defended his decision, saying he wanted to give his end-of-the-bench players experience running the team’s offense.
“It’s no disrespect,” Krystkowiak said. “I explained myself to him. Those guys work too hard to get put in a game and have to come down and dribble it out.”
Like other SWAC teams, Mississippi Valley State counts on lengthy road trips to pay the bills. The Delta Devils opened the season with a five-game road swing and will close out nonconference play with another four-game road swing in December. They play 12 of their first 15 games on the road.
Mississippi Valley State travels to Robert Morris on Saturday to conclude a five-game road trip.
Utah plays against Hawaii in the opening round of the Wooden Legacy on Thursday November, 22nd.
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