New York • Utes junior guard Sedrick Barefield looked at times in the first quarter like he might not miss a shot all night. Eventually, he did miss. However, he didn’t miss often.

Barefield’s 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting (6 of 8 on 3-pointers) were a bright spot in Utah’s 82-66 loss to Penn State in the NIT Championship at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night. Barefield stepped in and initiated the offense in the first quarter with Justin Bibbins picking up a pair of early fouls.

Barefield showed flashes of the scoring flare and ability to create his own shot off the dribble that give the Utes coaching staff confidence that he might be one of the players to take the torch next season with the graduation of Gabe Bealer, David Collette, Tyler Rawson and Bibbins.

“[I’ll take] confidence going into next season,” Barefield said of his play in the NIT. “I want to learn from the guys that are leaving, as far as what they brought to the table, try to come back next year and improve.”

Barefield, who was only eligible to play the second semester of last season after transferring from SMU, struggled early in the season to find his footing playing predominantly off the ball for the first time in his basketball career.

He went through a prolonged shooting slump as he adjusted to playing with Bibbins as the dominant ball handler. Barefield even shifted to coming off the bench for portions of the season.

However, his ability to ignite the team has been undeniable in moments such as overtime victories at Saint Mary’s and Arizona State. He’ll be one of two rising seniors next season — along with Parker Van Dyke — who will likely be asked to step into leadership roles.

Going into Thursday night’s final, Barefield had averaged 14.5 points and shot 48 percent from the field (43 percent on 3-pointers) during the NIT.

“I told him when I met with him two weeks ago before the NIT tournament, ‘We can’t go to New York without you,’” Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “(We) put him in the starting lineup and things changed. Certain kids respond differently, but I would hope he’s ready. …

“Being one of the seniors for next year, and us knowing some of his limitations and strengths gives us the opportunity to work with him in the offseason, and I would expect some big things out of him and a number of our other young guys.”