OREM, Utah - Behind a pair of 20-point efforts and a big second-half run, Utah Valley University pulled out a 76-69 win over Chicago State at the UCCU Center Saturday night.
Jason Johnson led the way for the Wolverines (14-16, 3-5 GWC), scoring a career-high 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting. Ben Aird also had a big night, dropping in 23 points and grabbing eight rebounds in helping UVU close out its Great West Conference schedule with a win.
"We have been on the short side of some terrific individual efforts and I’m pleased that we had a player with a career game in a winning effort," coach Dick Hunsaker said. "We kept fighting and competing and played with a lot of spirit. I was happy with how guys fought and competed."
After a tightly contested first half, the second period played out in a sequence of back-and-forth, extended runs. Trailing by one at the break CSU (8-21, 2-5 GWC) made its move first, jumping out to a seven-point lead on a 12-4 spurt. The Cougars scored all their points via the three-point shot during the stretch, hitting their first four attempts from three out of the break.
That 41-34 advantage was short-lived, though, as the Wolverines needed just 1:34 seconds to regain the lead. An 8-0 run, highlighted by a steal and fast break layup from Johnson and a couple buckets from Aird inside, quickly restored the lead to UVU at 42-41.
The next six points went the way of the Cougars, knocking down three jumpers over their next four possessions. That scoring span made the score 47-42 in favor of CSU with 12:34 still to go.
"I give Chicago State a lot of credit for always fighting back. They made a lot of big shots and a lot of big plays in this game," Hunsaker said.
But the Wolverines dealt the decisive blow with their subsequent response. Facing the five-point deficit, Johnson got things rolling with a transition layup. That bucket was followed swiftly by back-to-back scores from Aird, igniting what would become a 14-0 spurt.
Taylor Brown converted a three-point play before Holton Hunsaker buried a jumper coming around a screen to swing the momentum firmly in favor of the home team.
A pair of Cougar free throws seemed to slow the swing, but only slightly as UVU scored seven of the game’s next eight points. A trey out of the hands of Hunsaker pushed the Wolverine advantage to 63-50, culminating what proved to be a 21-3 run over a seven-minute span.
CSU hung around over the final five minutes by virtue of the three-point shot and a few transition baskets, but the damage had been done as UVU held on for the seven-point victory.
Hunsaker was the third Wolverine in double figures with 15 points and Nick Thompson finished with a game-high 10 rebounds.
UVU and Chicago State will continue to face each other in league play as both schools will join the Western Athletic Conference next season.
Johnson scored 12 first-half points in helping the Wolverines to a slender 30-29 halftime lead. UVU led for the majority of the first period, leading by as many as 12. But the Cougars kept things close by outscoring the Wolverines 10-2 over the final 3:12 of the half.
With conference slate now over, Utah Valley will close out the regular season with a preview of next year’s league play. The Wolverines will play host Saturday to current independent CSU Bakersfield - an institution that joined UVU in accepting an invitation to the Western Athletic Conference on Oct. 9, 2012.
Saturday’s 7 p.m. tip marks the final time the two squads will meet as non-conference opponents. This season’s first meeting took place in California with the Roadrunners claiming a 75-62 win.
Kellen Hiser is sports information assistant at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.