Indianapolis, Ind. • Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak stood near mid-court on Monday afternoon and told reporters he’d discussed with his team the smaller margin for error on the road. Things you might be able to overcome on your home court become overwhelming on the road.
Well, Utah found itself overwhelmed during a key stretch of an 81-69 loss to Butler in front of an announced 7,638 at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Tuesday night. Butler used a 14-0 run in the second half to help extend its home winning streak against nonconference opponents to 40 consecutive games.
Utes freshman forward Donnie Tillman scored a season-high 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting, and he also grabbed a team-high seven rebounds to go along with a pair of blocked shots. Sedrick Barefield weathered a rough shooting night (5 of 16) to score 14 points, while Justin Bibbins and Gabe Bealer scored 10 points apiece.
Utes senior forward David Collette, who came into the night as the team’s leading scorer (14.9 ppg), turned in the lowest-scoring game of the season (six points). All of his scoring came in the final 5:09 of the game.
“I like our collective mentality and how we operate as a team, the culture and the way the guys get along,” Krystkowiak said. “At the end of the day, our better players have to step up and make plays. That’s what it boils down to. They had some men inside, and I thought they dominated our interior presence pretty well.”
Bulldogs senior forward Kelan Martin scored a game-high 29 points on 12-for-19 shooting and hauled in 11 rebounds. Tyler Wideman used his 6-foot-8, 240-pound frame to muscle his way to 18 points (6 of 8 at the free throw line). Paul Jorgensen (16 points) and Kamar Baldwin (11 points) gave the Bulldogs four players in double-digit scoring.
After trailing by three at the break, the Utes tied the score at 39 less than three minutes into the second half before a 14-0 Bulldogs’ run put the Utes in a 53-39 hole. The Utes committed four turnovers in the first 5 1/2 minutes of the second half, including one by Collette that led to a Wideman one-handed dunk in the open court to bring the volume in Hinkle to a deafening level.
“It’s called momentum,” Krystkowiak said. “We didn’t guard them, and we threw the ball away. It’s a bad combination. When you don’t get shots and you take the ball out of the net at the other end, it’s a bunch of series of four-point plays – the two you don’t get [and] two they get. You add that up and it’s a roll.”
The Utes got within 63-55, after a Barefield 3-pointer with 7:37 remaining, but they couldn’t sustain any sort of run until back-to-back 3-pointers by Tillman with 1:58 left to cut the deficit to 74-69.
Then the Utes gave up a jumper, missed a 3-pointer on the other end, then gave up a 3-pointer to Martin with 1:13 that served as the final dagger for all intents and purposes
The Utes fell to 1-2 away from the Huntsman Center with their only other loss coming in Las Vegas against UNLV.
“Refs, crowd and things, I think it really impacted us in a way,” Tillman said. “We play great at home. Who doesn’t? Right. It’s just something we’ve got to overcome. We’ve got to get better on the road. It starts defensively.”