Utah returned home to the Huntsman Center Saturday night after a tough road loss to Utah State. Yet the Utes didn't get the resilient bounce-back it had hoped for, losing 78-70 to Oral Roberts in a frustrating performance.
Utah got off to a slow start as they struggled with their outside shooting, in contrast to Oral Roberts, who shot 40% from three and 46.7% from the field in the first half. In a developing pattern, the Utes suffered 13 turnovers in the first half which accounted for most of their deficit as rebounding remained fairly even throughout the half.
Head coach Jim Boylen addressed the number of turnovers his team suffered, particularly in the first half. "I just think we made careless plays, we were careless with the ball," Boylen explained.
After getting down by as much as 16, the Utes went on a run to end the half, cutting their deficit to seven by the half. Head coach Jim Boylen and staff made their usual half-time adjustments and the Utes once again made a run to open the final half, at one point cutting Oral Roberts' lead to just one. Utah's run was built on the strength of 9 points off of three consecutive three-pointers in less than one minute.
Utah's Will Clyburnaccounted for of two of those three pointers, taking the game over with his outside shooting just prior to the midway mark of the 2nd half. Along with Clyburn Chris Kupets played a key role in the comeback, assisting on Clyburn's two threes, and sinking another himself in that stretch.
Kupets also hit a long jumper at the 10:45 mark to put the Utes up 52-50 giving the Utes their first lead since early in the first half. The Georgia native and former Hill College (Texas) junior scored a career-high seven points in the contest on 3-6 shooting. Kupets has come on in the past two games, playing key minutes, distributing the ball and in general making hustle plays.
"I'm just giving myself to the team and not being selfish," Kupets said. "You have to give yourself to the team, and do whatever the team needs you to do to help us win. I put that ahead of everything else."
After clawing their way back to take a small lead, Utah committed two turnovers, one personal foul and missed their sole shot; not scoring for nearly two minutes resulting in the loss of their lead. Following that stretch, Oral Roberts rebuilt their lead back up to seven, where the game largely stagnated as the Utes flirted with chipping into the lead, but couldn't sustain the effort.
"We fought back, we just didn't have enough. I've really got to evaluate that time in the game where we were right there and they pulled away," said Boylen. "We either didn't get a shot, or we turned it over or we didn't get a rebound. To me, those are all toughness-type things. That's one thing I've been preaching to this team; we're not tough enough. That's a time in the game where you have to bear down, and be tougher."
Sophomore Jason Washburn echoed his coach's comments on being tougher. "When the lights are on, we've just got to finish. We've got to get tougher," said Washburn. "They were tougher than us tonight, hands down. There's no better way to say it."
Junior wing Will Clyburn finished the night with 21 points and a career-high ten rebounds, marking the first Utah double-double of the season. Point guard Josh Watkins added 18 points and enjoyed a career-high four steals. Jason Washburn snatched five rebounds and dropped in 10 points while Shawn Glover scored seven points and also grabbed five rebounds.
Meanwhile, Jay Watkins, Chris Hines, Antonio DiMaria and David Foster were all quiet, each scoring less than three points for the entire contest. Overall, the Utes were 23-53 for a 43.4% percentage from the field, 5-17 (29.4%) from three and 19-25 (76%) from the charity stripe. Utah cleaned up their turnovers in the second half, to finish with 16 on the night and outrebounded ORU 34-33.
The Utes attribute Oral Roberts' runs and ultimate victory to having played at a slower pace and feel that when they play up-tempo and push the ball, it's more conducive to their personnel and general game plan. The other portion that was missing Saturday was their ability/willingness to attack and be aggressive offensively.
"This team has to play fast. We're still trying to figure this out a little bit," said Coach Boylen. "I thought we weren't very aggressive at the offensive end. Sometimes when you're getting stung on defense, it takes away from the aggressiveness on offense. I didn't think we did a good job or guarding in the first half, or playing offense. We just dug ourselves a hole."
"In the first half when we were down, we weren't going at them. The way we got back in it was running that them," explained Ute center Jason Washburn. "When we took the lead, we just needed one play, as a unit. One play that we just didn't make. It was the same thing at Utah State too, where we got the lead and then let them take it right back. It's not who we are, it's not what we train ourselves to do and it's not how we prepare."