Through three basketball games this season, Utah hardly ever trailed. In their fourth game, the Utes led for only 16 seconds.
Coastal Carolina took command early in the second half of a 79-57 home-court victory Thursday night in the first round of the Myrtle Beach Invitational at the HTC Center in Conway, S.C.
“You have to play hard, smart and together to win most games," Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said, citing the program’s mantra. “We didn’t play hard enough in the first half, and then we didn’t play smart enough or together enough in the second half.”
The Utes (3-1) will meet Ohio, a 76-53 loser to No. 24 Baylor, in the consolation bracket Friday. As always in these eight-team events, Utah was hoping to advance in tournament play and build its postseason credentials by meeting one or more high-level teams, but that won’t happen.
The same was true last season, when the Utes lost to Hawaii by 11 points in the first round of the Wooden Legacy at Anaheim, Calif., before beating Grand Canyon and losing to Northwestern.
Utah missed any opportunity to play in the championship bracket by shooting poorly in every way Thursday, when Timmy Allen led the team with 15 points and nine rebounds. The Utes shot 33.3% from the field, 17.9% from 3-point range and 56.0% from the free-throw line.
Keishawn Brewton led Coastal Carolina with 20 points and Ebrima Dibba added 19, as the home team went 11 of 24 from 3-point range. The win boosted CCU to No. 142 in the kenpom.com rankings and dropped Utah to No. 116. Ohio, Utah's next opponent, is No. 188. The Bobcats were picked to finish last in the six-team East Division of the Mid-American Conference.
In a pregame interview on ESPN 700, Krystkowiak said his biggest concerns were Coastal Carolina’s offensive rebounding and a defense that could cause turnovers. The Utes’ 15 turnovers were not egregious, although a big chunk of them came early in the second half, when the game got away from them. The Chanticleers grabbed 12 offensive rebounds, but scored only five second-chance points.
Shooting, then, was the biggest factor working against Utah. Both Gach and Riley Battin, Utah's other sophomores, had joined Allen in a balanced attack in the first three games, including significant victories over Nevada and Minnesota. But they combined for 2-of-15 shooting Thursday.
The Utes went ahead 6-4, then fell behind by 11 points and never caught up, although they got within 29-28 late in the first half. But the Chanticleers (3-2) tossed in a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer and then used a 15-2 run to build a 59-40 lead midway through the second half.
Utah didn’t lose by more than 17 points in any Pac-12 game last season.