SALT LAKE CITY - Utah (4-4) used a dominating first half to put away Idaho State (2-6) before coasting to a 68-56 victory Saturday night.
Utah took off almost from the opening tip; after the Bengals scored the first points of the game on a jump shot, the Utes went on a 25-to-6 run that effectively ended the game. Solid defense and shooting fueled the Utes in the first half as five Utes scored at least six points, led by Jay Watkins' seven. David Foster added five points, five rebounds, and three blocks in the opening 20 minutes. Utah shot 47% from the field compared to Idaho State's 25% as the Utes took a 40-to-15 lead into the locker room.
Watkins led the Utes with 15 points. Foster chipped in with 12 and 10 rebounds, recording his first career double-double. Marshall Henderson was the only other Ute in double figures, scoring 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting from three. Demetrius Monroe led all players with 19 points and 11 rebounds and Amorrow Morgan added another 11 points for the Bengals.
"Good to have Jay Watkins back," Utah head coach Jim Boylen said. "Obviously a big piece that we've been missing. His athleticism, toughness, the way he pulls this team together."
While the Utes came out strong to start the game, they were sluggish and perhaps a bit complacent in the second half. Idaho State did not have enough firepower to overcome the 25-point halftime deficit, but they made things uncomfortable for the Utes and the 8,269 fans in attendance. The Bengals outscored the Utes 41-to-28 over the final 20 minutes to arrive at the final score.
Utah shot themselves in the foot for much of the second half, missing open shots and missing free throws. The Utes shot just 31.8% in the second half, and 52.4% from the line. Watkins stepped up his play when the Bengals got within striking distance, scoring seven straight points for the Utes in three minutes of play. Watkins' outburst kept the comfortable and the Utes cruised over the last minute and a half for the win. "I'm thankful for the win," Boylen said. "We've got to take this momentum and get better."
Utah has plenty to improve on. The Utes shot just 62% from the free throw line and were once again out-rebounded by a smaller opponent. Utah gave up 17 offensive rebounds to the Bengals and were out-rebounded 38-to-34 overall, 22-to-11 in the second half. "We weren't physical in the second half, we played the score," Boylen said. "You can blame it on a lot of things, but I thought we got a little selfish on the offensive end and then didn't guard on the defensive end. Young teams do that. I don't like it. We've got to play 40 full minutes."
Even with the poor second half, Boylen does not want that to overshadow the good things his young Utes did in the first. "We one by 12, I'm disappointed, but I don't want that the focus," Boylen said. "I thought we shared the ball to start the game and I thought we defended like we have to defend. The problem is, with this group of guys, they are learning to play 40 minutes. I thought we won the loose ball game for the first 26, 28 minutes which is very important."