Utah's basketball players and coaches want to make the 50-year anniversary season of the Huntsman Center memorable. The Utes went even deeper in rewriting the program's history Friday night against Mississippi Valley State, breaking an NCAA record in the process.
Utah’s 143-49 victory created the biggest margin ever in a game featuring two Division I teams, while guards Both Gach and Rylan Jones each posted a triple-double as the Utes produced a school-record point total.
“Guys had a lot of fun,” Gach confirmed. “I had a lot of fun, personally.”
The accompanying question is whether the Utes took too much enjoyment out of routing an overmatched opponent, although the Delta Devils know what they’re getting into when they book these money-making games against teams from power conferences.
“It was a respectfully played game,” Ute coach Larry Krystkowiak said, “and we certainly didn't try to embarrass anybody.”
Probably the only indefensible act Friday was Utah reserve guard Alfonso Plummer's bow-and-arrow gesture after a 3-pointer with his team leading 112-31. Otherwise, the Utes (2-0) deserved to keep scoring, as long as Jones was diving on the floor to corral a loose ball with his team up by 66 and, late in the game, Matt Van Komen and Mikael Jantunen were absorbing two more of MVSU's nine charging fouls.
Beyond that, Krystkowiak’s defense for the offensive explosion was the NCAA’s NET rating that tracks teams’ efficiency from start to finish. If he had any thoughts of backing off, the system “completely blew that out of the water,” Krystkowiak said. “You’re completely based on production. It’s not fair for a team like [MVSU] to have to deal with that margin, but those are all numbers that are metrics for our future in postseason possibilities.”
Last November, the Delta Devils' former coach was unhappy that Utah kept shooting 3-pointers in the last minute of a 98-63 win. Lindsey Hunter, MVSU's new coach and an NBA contemporary of Krystkowiak's in the 1990s, was cordial in the postgame handshake line Friday, though.
Krystkowiak’s explanation, then and now, was that he couldn’t tell his little-used players not to try hard. He graciously kept former Ute forward Donnie Tillman on the bench for nearly the last 16 minutes of last year’s game, rather than have him seek a triple-double.
In Friday's case, Krystkowiak said he wanted a true point guard on the court to help the reserves function, so Gach and Jones each got to chase some numbers. Gach's pursuit was more natural, as he needed five assists to complete his 12-10-10 night in points, rebounds and assists. He got those assists in less than a four-minute span, the last one coming with 7:43 remaining.
Jones, needing a basket to finish his 10-10-11 production, had two layups blocked and missed two jump shots before the freshman scored a layup with 3:26 left. Krystkowiak liked having two players with triple-doubles in a game, undoubtedly the first time that’s happened in college basketball.
No starter played 25 minutes for the Utes, who had nine double-figures scorers — led by Timmy Allen with 26 points in only 20 minutes. The Delta Devils also could have played some defense. After losing 110-74 at Iowa State on Tuesday, their effort Friday made that game seem competitive.
Utah led 70-20 at halftime and nearly completed a “60-50-100” shooting night. The Utes hit 63.3 percent from the field, 50 percent from 3-point range and 92.3 percent from the free-throw line — and that was because walk-on Brandon Haddock missed a free throw with 53 seconds remaining.
Van Komen, Utah's 7-foot-4 center, made his college debut with 12 points and six rebounds in 12 minutes, as one of 13 players in action. Freshman guard Brendan Wenzel didn't play; he'll likely redshirt, Krystkowiak said.
The Utes will be off until next Friday, when they host Minnesota.