BOISE — Going into Tuesday night’s game at Taco Bell Arena, only 21 of the 351 Division I college basketball teams in America were still undefeated. So when 6-0 Utah squared off with 6-0 Boise State, something had to give.
Unfortunately for the Utes, they were the ones who went home with a loss as the Broncos took a 69-67 victory in a spirited game before 7,151 fans.
The Utes fought back from a seven-point halftime deficit and led with less than two minutes left, but made too many mistakes down the stretch in suffering their first defeat of the season.
The Utes were outrebounded 32-28 and allowed the Broncos to get some big offensive rebounds in the final minutes. They also made just 8 of 15 free throws, including five misses in the final 10 minutes that could have made a difference.
“This was a great college environment and I was really pleased with how we responded with fire in the second half,’’ said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “It’s a real fine line and we missed a couple of blockouts and certainly you can’t shoot 50 percent from the line. It’s the little things, but those are the things you need to win on the road.’’
Jordan Loveridge led the Utes with 19 points, including 16 in the second half after getting shall we say a “pep talk” from his coach in the locker room. Delon Wright had another big night with 15 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and four steals, but he’ll remember one of his four turnovers in the final seconds the most.
The Utes trailed 67-66 with 28 seconds left when Boise State's Derrick Marks missed the first of a one-and-one. Wright grabbed the rebound and dribbled downcourt, but lost the ball out of bounds when he was surrounded by Bronco players. It didn’t help that the Utes were out of timeouts.
After Marks, who led the Broncos with 17 points, made a pair of free throws, Wright was fouled with 5.5 seconds left. But he missed the first and made the second, leaving the Utes down two.
The Utes had still one more chance after Jeff Elorriaga missed two free throws with 3.8 seconds left, but Loveridge tried a shot from beyond midcourt, saying he shot early hoping to get fouled.
Lost in the disappointing defeat was the outstanding play of Kenneth Ogbe, the 6-foot-6 freshman from Germany, who came off the bench in the second half to hit three 3-pointers and get a steal and a key assist. Ogbe scored nine points in 16 minutes.
“He was huge and made big shots,’’ said Krystkowiak. “I like his length and the more comfortable he is in his role, we will continue to integrate him more in the lineup.’’
Utah had won every game this year by double digits, but this was their first big test in their first road contest of the year.
After a sluggish first half, the Utes came back to lead 55-51 with just more than eight minutes left before the Broncos reeled off eight straight points to take the lead at 59-55.
The Utes rallied to tie the game at 63, thanks to a steal by Wright and an assist to Brandon Taylor for a layup. After a basket by Marks, Loveridge scored a 3-pointer to put the Utes ahead 66-65 with 1:42 left.
But Marks, who sat out much of the second half in foul trouble, made the go-ahead basket with 46 seconds left.
You couldn’t tell these were two of the top-scoring teams in the country (Boise State ranked No. 1, Utah No. 7) in a low-scoring first half.
The Broncos took a 32-25 lead into the locker room thanks to a late run, as they outscored the Utes 12-2 over the final five minutes.
Utah's Princeton Onwas, who made his second start of the season, was ejected with 3:09 left in the first half for an elbow to the head of Elorriaga as he swung the ball from side to side.
In all, Krystkowiak was happy with his team’s first road game of the year.
“This was good,'' he said. "There are plenty of things we can look at going forward. Boise will be a Top-25 team and we were really pleased with our performance. This is like a Pac-12 road game and we’re going to play these types of games all season. How can you not be excited when you play games like these?”
Next up for the Utes is Fresno State on Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Huntsman Center.
GAME NOTES: Boise State moved to 7-0 for the first time in school history. ... Coming into the game, Boise State ranked 31st in the AP poll, in the “others receiving votes“ category and 32nd in the coaches poll. ... Boise State is the only team in the country to return all five starters from an NCAA tournament team. ... Two years ago, the Broncos blitzed the Utes 80-59 and last year, the Utes returned the favor with a 21-point victory of their own at the Huntsman Center, 76-55. ... The last time the Utes had gone this far into the season without a road game was 1965 under Jack Gardner when the Utes played seven games in Salt Lake before venturing out to play at Cincinnati in late December. ... The last time the Utes only had one nonleague game on the road was 1973-74, when they opened at Kansas State before playing nine straight home games. ... Utah’s next road game will be Jan. 8 at Washington. ... Utah came into the game 6-0 for the first time since the 1997-98 season. Boise State was 6-0 for the third time in history. ... After playing Carroll College at home Thursday, the Broncos will travel to Kentucky to play the No. 3-ranked Wildcats next Tuesday.