An enthusiastic and boisterous Jon M. Huntsman Center crowd was treated to a down-to-the-wire Ute win over SMU Tuesday night, as the Runnin' Utes exacted revenge for a loss at SMU on November 28.
True freshmen Brandon Taylor and Justin Seymour sparked the team defensively, which led to offensive success for the duo.
Taylor had previously played a total of 46 minutes all season, and averaged 6.6 minutes per game, made the most of his 12 minutes Tuesday night. Taylor played a key role in the Utes' victory, scoring 10 points, six of which came at a critical junction with Utah struggling offensively with starting point guard Glen Dean on the bench in foul trouble.
"Brandon Taylor hasn't been getting a lot of playing time lately, and he doesn't understand that. He's been battling through it in practice," praised head coach Larry Krystkowiak. "He's doing a great job and he gets his number called and he had a lot of poise, and hit shots. You would have thought he was a seasoned veteran."
An actual seasoned veteran also had praise for the freshman point guard.
"Brandon Taylor came in tonight and gave us an instant spark. He hasn't been getting a lot of minutes, but it hasn't changed his personality," observed senior center Jason Washburn. "It's never changed his drive, and he goes hard in practice. Coach called his number tonight, and I'd say he performed pretty good."
Another freshman guard Justin Seymour,who had a sort of breakthrough this past week in practice, had a team-high 11 points to go along with 5 rebounds and three steals Tuesday night.
"Justin Seymour does what he does. He hits big shots. That's what he did tonight. [The two freshmen] played with confidence," Washburn continued doling out his approval. "It's good for our program to see freshmen play like that, it gives you a lot of hope for the future. These guys are the future, and it's looking pretty bright."
The seasoned vet also had a good game, contributing 10 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots, which pulled his career total blocks to 124, enough to tie Michael Doleac for 5th in school history.
Jarred DuBois, Utah's leading scorer averaging 13.8 ppg, ended with eight points on the night, but only after four free throws off SMU technicals in the very last seconds of the game, while Jordan Loveridge had just six points on the night, but none more important than his easy put-back off a wide-open offensive rebound to put Utah up 56-51 with :20 remaining.
"That might have been one of the plays of the game for us, that tip-in was a huge swing. But that's kind of the message for everybody. It's not going to be easy on certain nights, and it's about the next play," said Krystkowiak of Loveridge's ability to make the critical play at the critical moment. "It's about battling adversity. I know it's an old cliche. There were a lot of guys that stayed persistent with their effort, and never stopped. Jordan's example is a good one, and it's you don't ever quit."
Loveridge didn't quit, pulling down a team high seven rebounds, leading the team in that category for the sixth time this season. Utah's second leading scorer averaging 11.7 ppg, Loveridge also had two assists and two blocks on the night. Third leading scorer, Glen Dean, who got in early foul trouble, had the hot hand early, keeping the Utes in the game almost single-handedly for a stretch prior to Taylor and Seymour's contributions. Dean finished the night with six points, shy of his 8.9 ppg average.
On a night where Utah's three leading scorers added just 20 points combined on the night versus their usual 34.4, the freshmen infusion was a much-needed lift for the Utes, who vowed to avenge the earlier road loss to SMU.
In order to do so, Krystkowiak discussed two key focal points with his team this week in practices; rebounding and free throw attempts.
In SMU's home win, they out-rebounded the Utes 38-37 and capitalized on 18-21 free throw attempts to Utah's 2-3 free throw shooting night.
Tuesday night, the Utes turned those numbers upside down, out-rebounding the smaller Mustangs 35-27 and hitting 17-19 free throws to SMU's 7-10 charity stripe performance.
"Part of the reason that we played SMU twice was so that we could learn to make adjustments. They absolutely killed us on the glass last time and got every 50-50 ball," explained Krystkowiak. "They got to the line roughly 20 more times than we did, so that we out-rebound them by nine and we got to the line were positive things."
While Utah closed a tight game, displaying late-game basketball smarts and some poise, there are still things to fix, or as Krystkowiak phrases it, 'new fires to put out'.
The Utes won in spite of another troubling stretch without a field goal and/or very little scoring, allowing SMU to go on a 21-6 run over a 12 minute span, something that happened over the course of the final seven minutes of the BYU game, which resulted in a three point loss.
Despite heavy focus on ball security, and making smarter decisions this past week in practice, Utah turned the ball over 15 times in Tuesday's contest, resulting in 19 SMU points on the night.
"A lot of the credit goes to [SMU], as a coach, you don't want to give credit to the other team. It's always what we're not doing, but they're a good defensive team. That's why they're 8-2," said Krystkowiak begrudgingly. "But I just thought we were throwing the ball around, we were a little bit out sync. That really sucked a lot of life out of is in that stretch in the first half."
"To think that they shot under 40 percent, and maybe five of those were layups off of our passes, we can't play that way," he expanded. "I don't care how good you are defensively and rebounding, and all those kinds of things. We've got to be able to take care of the ball better than that."
Keeping on the continual drumbeat of improving and learning with each game, and never putting too much emphasis on any one loss, or win, Krystkowiak got right back on point.
"The key for us is to break down the film tonight, break it down tomorrow. We know we've got some new fires to put out with some execution and decision making," he preached. "Then you just jump back in the saddle Friday night, and try to do it all over again."