FORT WORTH, Texas You knew as soon as Texas Christian University's second-leading scorer, Henry Salter, was suspended indefinitely earlier in the week that Utah was in trouble for Wednesday night's game at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum.
As often happens in such situations, the Horned Frogs came out and played with a purpose and took a 67-61 victory over the Utes.
The loss, their third in a row, dropped the Utes (15-11) into a three-way tie for fifth place with the Horned Frogs and Air Force at 6-7.
TCU coach Neil Dougherty felt his team was a little more motivated against the Utes playing without Salter, who ranks seventh in the nation in 3-point shooting (47.7 percent).
"I think whether it's an injury or a suspension and you lose someone, the natural tendency is for kids to want to try to step up," Dougherty said. "Sometimes it works against you. But we did have some people step up with effort and a lot of people played hard tonight."
One player who stepped up and hurt the Utes was backup forward Alvardo Parker, who hit 7-of-10 shots for 14 points after coming into the game with a 5.2 scoring average.
For Ute coach Jim Boylen, three main things hurt the Utes their one-on-one defense, turnovers and free throw shooting.
The Utes had a hard time guarding Parker and Kevin Langford (16 points) inside, and on the outside it was Brent Hackett, who hurt the Utes to the tune of 19 points, on 7-of-10 shooting.
"They made the plays, we didn't," Boylen said.
In the turnover department, the Utes had 16 compared to eight for the Horned Frogs, with most coming in the half-court as the Utes actually handled TCU's press well all night.
"That's all we talked about before the game was turnovers," Boylen said. "We had nine against them at our place and won, and had 16 tonight and lost. Lawrence Borha has five turnovers from the wing in our system and he doesn't even handle the ball. Turnovers are big for us on the road. We have to get shots."
Then there were the free throws.
The Utes came into the game leading the conference in free throw shooting at 75.3 percent and ranked 18th in the country.
They were perfect until the 6:09 mark when Luke Nevill missed the front end of a one-and-one. After that, the Utes missed three more, including one by 96 percent free-throw shooter Johnnie Bryant.
"The free throws under six minutes have been a problem all year," Boylen said. "We do enough to get to the line and then don't make them."
The Utes took control at the start, and even with Nevill on the bench with two fouls less than five minutes into the game, they seemed to be cruising, up 27-17 with 5:10 left after a Bryant 18-footer.
However, the Utes couldn't stand success as has happened several times this year and failed on five straight possessions and allowed the Frogs to score 10 straight. TCU took a 30-29 halftime lead on a Hackett 3-pointer with two seconds left.
"We had two defensive mistakes," Boylen said. "They make a 3, they make a 2, it goes from 10 to five and they have hope and it changes."
The Utes took their first lead of the second half at 52-50 on a pair of Luka Drca free throws with 6:42 left, but Nevill missed the front end of a one-and-one a minute later and the Frogs ran off seven straight points to take a 57-52 lead with 4:15 left.
"We were hitting our foul shots all throughout the game, but when it came down to the end of the game, when it mattered most, we didn't," Nevill said. "We can't really blame that on the crowd making noise or anything like that, it was just in our heads."
Drca missed 1-of-2 and, with 2:07 left, Shaun Green also missed 1-of-2, leaving the Utes down 59-56.
After Parker scored on a thundering follow dunk shot, Bryant missed 1-of-2, leaving the Utes down 61-57.
Nevill led the Utes with 15 points and seven rebounds, while Tyler Kepkay added 10 points.
"This is where this team is at," Boylen said. "We've got to get tougher, got to grow, finish things off. This is a process, as much as I don't like it, I think we've got to go through this. To handle adversity and grow and learn. We'll keep working on it, that's all we can do."The Utes flew home on a charter flight after the game and will get ready for another road game Saturday afternoon at Wyoming.
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