CHICAGO — Utah Valley University’s attempt to sweep both the Great West Conference regular season and tournament titles was cut short by an 88-78 overtime loss to NJIT in the semifinals of the conference tournament on Friday.
Isiah Williams, in his final game as a Wolverine, scored 26 points, while Holton Hunsaker added 20. Geddes Robinson had his 21st career double-double in his last game at Utah Valley with 10 points and 16 rebounds. Another senior, Keith Thompson, finished with 12 points. Ben Aird added eight points and 10 boards for the Wolverines.
NJIT was led by 27 points from Chris Flores, who connected on 5-of-7 from the 3-point line. Ryan Woods hit four of his six attempts from beyond the arc, as Highlanders shot 11-for-21 from three.
“There were multiple momentum switches throughout the course of the game. Our inability to defend the arc fueled their team,” said UVU head coach Dick Hunsaker. “That gave them the spark they needed. Give credit to NJIT for rallying, for creating their own momentum and making their own breaks.”
The Wolverines jumped out to a 21-9 lead when Hunsaker drilled his third 3-pointer of the first half at the 10:38 mark. The trey capped an 18-2 run after NJIT led early, 7-3.
During the early run, with UVU holding an 11-9 lead, Aird scored to start a spurt of 10 straight. Hunsaker netted the final eight points of the run, on a layup and consecutive jumpers from beyond the arc.
NJIT closed to within three on two occasions in the half, the latest coming at 29-26 with 4:06 to go. Utah Valley stretched the lead back out to seven, 35-28, by halftime.
In the second half, the Highlanders crawled back and took their first lead since early on with a bucket by Flores with 15:44 to go. NJIT stretched the lead to as much as nine before the Wolverines chipped away.
Williams hit a three with 4:12 to go to get UVU within four and after a bucket from Ryan Regis, Aird converted on a 3-point play to get the Wolverines within three, 64-61, with 3:29 left.
Williams then blocked a P.J. Miller runner on the ensuing possession, and tied the game with a trey at the 2:52 mark, as the teams traded shots from long range down the stretch. Woods knocked a triple down on the next NJIT possession, only to be answered by a three from Thompson to again tie the game with 1:49 to go.
After Williams and Isaiah Wilkerson both hit a pair from the line in the final minute, UVU had a chance to win in regulation, but Williams’ shot rolled off the rim, forcing overtime.
In the extra frame, Thompson’s put-back gave the Wolverines a 71-69 advantage, but a five-point swing gave NJIT the lead for good. Wilkerson made two free throws to tie it, Woods knocked down another three and the Highlanders held off UVU to advance to Saturday’s championship game.
The 2012 season was highlighted by the Wolverines’ second-straight Great West Conference regular season championship and the program’s first 20-win season since 2006-07. Utah Valley also won a school-record 13 consecutive games, which at the time stood as the third longest in the nation.
“It was a wonderful season and a wonderful run we had for two months" said Hunsaker. "I feel bad that the five seniors have to leave with that taste, to have that feeling that deeply stings. They’ve done a lot for Utah Valley University to represent our basketball program.”
Robinson ends his career as the most prolific rebounder in school history. His 10.4 per-game average in 2011-12 and 9.9 career average both rank as the best marks at UVU. Williams career was highlighted by his honorable mention All-America selection as a junior, the first Utah Valley player to receive the accolade. He leaves as the fourth-leading scorer in school history with 1,040 career points. In addition to Robinson, Thompson and Williams, Rory Fannon and Kevin Woods also played their final game for Utah Valley.
Clint Burgi is the assistant athletic director for sports information at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit http://www.WolverineGreen.com.