Donnie Tillman’s big numbers in little time carry Utah past MVSU, 98-63

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes guard Sedrick Barefield (2) takes the ball to the hoop, as Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils guard Michael Green (15) defends, in basketball action between Utah Utes and Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils at the Jon M. Huntsman Center, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018.

One of Division I’s worst basketball teams made another swing through Utah this week, creating a triple-double opportunity for Ute sophomore forward Donnie Tillman and a chance for his unsung teammates to help break a school record for 3-pointers.

Each of those unfulfilled quests added some spice to an otherwise routine exercise Thursday night, as Utah took a 98-63 victory over Mississippi Valley State at the Huntsman Center. That's almost exactly the same score as the visiting Delta Devils endured Tuesday at Utah State.

Absorbing a rout is a standard element of MVSU’s touring show this month, including a 106-37 loss at Nebraska. That explains why coach Andre Payne was not too happy about Utah’s Beau Rydalch launching a 3-pointer from the corner in the final 10 seconds when the Utes (2-1) could have dribbled out the clock. Rydalch missed, as walk-on Brooks King had done on a previous possession, and Utah settled for tying a school record with 17 3-pointers.

In the Utes' defense, coach Larry Krystkowiak could have let Tillman play any portion of the last 15 minutes, 50 seconds in pursuit of a triple double, but he kept the sophomore forward on the bench. Tillman finished with 12 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in a remarkable showing, considering his previous career high was seven assists.

Krystkowiak appreciated Tillman's display of “as good of energy as I've seen him play with,” he said.

Tillman was not sure how to process that compliment, except to say he had been “too passive lately,” and he responded well after Utah's 78-69 loss at Minnesota on Monday.

Utah beat the Delta Devils 91-51 last November. Nothing like that 40-point spread was materializing in the first half, when the Utes led only 37-30 with less than four minutes remaining. Unhappy with what he labeled “atrocious” defense from his two centers, Krystkowiak used freshman forward Riley Battin in a small lineup that worked wonderfully. The Utes produced a 15-0 run in barely more than two minutes.

Utah accelerated in the second half, even with Tillman on the bench in a move that Krystkowiak partly attributed to “voices in my head” about rest and injury-avoidance issues. Krystkowiak believes next week's eight-team Wooden Legacy in Fullerton, Calif., is critical to Utah's NCAA Tournament credentials, and he wants everybody healthy. That's why he rested freshman Both Gach, dealing with a foot injury.

Besides, the Utes were scoring enough points. Senior guard Parker Van Dyke, named a co-captain Thursday, responded with a team-high 16 points off the bench. Van Dyke and new starter Charles Jones Jr. each made four 3-pointers and Tillman, Battin, Vante Hendrix and Brandon Morley added two each in the record-tying performance.

As for the possible record-breaking shot, Krystkowiak understood Payne's displeasure, but presented a reasonable defense. “We had five guys on the court that don't get to play a lot,” he said. “It's no disrespect. I explained myself to him, but those guys work too hard to get put in a game and have to come down and dribble out the clock. I get his angle too. I've been on both sides of that situation. … I think we sorted it out in the handshake line; just some emotions.”

After Rydalch (also named a co-captain, along with Sedrick Barefield) missed his 3-point try, the rebound was knocked out of bounds. Payne called a timeout to make his point; the Utes in-bounded the ball and killed the last 7.4 seconds.

And then they looked forward to a needed break, before playing Hawaii on Thanksgiving Night in the Wooden Legacy. Potential opponents in the tournament include Seton Hall and Miami.