New York • Less than a minute left and the Utes’ 5-foot-8 senior point guard, Justin Bibbins, dribbled fearlessly into the paint on a possession that held the potential to change the game drastically.
As has been his habit this season, the smallest player on the floor made a huge play. Bibbins got swarmed by a sea of bodies seemingly twice his size, but somehow still found a way to pass the ball out to Tyler Rawson on the wing.
Rawson made the go-ahead 3-pointer to give the Utah the lead with 38 seconds remaining, and 14 seconds later Bibbins drew a charge to seal the 69-64 win and the program’s first NIT championship game appearance since 1974.
Bibbins, who played all 40 minutes, didn’t score in the first quarter and still notched a team-high 19 points (he went 12 of 12 on free throws) and took control of the game in the second half with his decision-making.
“Late in the game, I just, you know, was trying to make a play,” Bibbins said. “Coaches were telling me when I drove in the paint, people were open on the outside. I looked out and Ty was wide open, and I just tried to make the right play. I was happy he knocked it down.”
With Utes turnovers fueling Western Kentucky for a large portion of the game — the Utes shot 18 fewer shots than their opponents, in part due to 13 turnovers — Bibbins practically willed the Utes to victory in the fourth quarter. He scored or assisted on 14 of the team’s 18 fourth-quarter points, and all eight of his points came at the free-throw line. The Utes made only two field goals in the fourth quarter, and both were 3-pointers by Rawson off of feeds from Bibbins.
“We put Bibbs in those positions to make the right play, whether it’s to shoot it or find the open guy,” Rawson said. “He had four or five guys on him there on the last play. It was a great job of him finding it.”