We had a little sit-down conversation four or five days ago to clear some things up and he’s been bringing a lot of energy to our practices. —Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, on Donnie Tillman
SALT LAKE CITY — For the past several days, a flu bug has gone through the Utah basketball team, sidelining some players and even slowing coach Larry Krystkowiak.
One of the affected players was Donnie Tillman, a 6-foot-7 freshman from Detroit, who played for Findlay Prep in Las Vegas last year. He said the bug was “still lingering” Thursday night when the Utes played Missouri as he sat on the bench with a towel over his mouth, coughing. However, he fought through it and turned out to be a big factor in Utah's 18-point win over Missouri, getting a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Krystkowiak praised Tillman for playing through his sickness and also said he took to heart some advice the coach gave him early in the week.
“We had a little sit-down conversation four or five days ago to clear some things up and he’s been bringing a lot of energy to our practices,” Krystkowiak said. “It’s a bit of karma — when you practice well and focus and play as hard as he did. Our key was focusing on the defense and the rebounding and a lot of times the offense will take care of itself and it did.”
Tillman sparked the Utes in both of his two first-half stints.
Early on, both teams seemed stuck in mud when Tillman entered the game and immediately got a putback on a David Collette miss. Then he took it to the basket on a drive. He went out for a few minutes and when he returned the Utes were still up just 19-12.
Five seconds after he re-entered the game, Tillman intercepted a pass at midcourt that was thrown from under Missouri’s basket and took it the other way for a layup. Later he added a pair of free throws and then sank a 3-pointer from the right corner to extend the Ute lead to 32-19, giving him 11 first-half points.
“I was being aggressive," he said. “I was just trying to get to the rim, get some contact and things were going in and I was rebounding and defending. I’m finding my role — I’m not a big-time scorer but Coach is looking for that motor guy, a two-way player to go to the rim and attack, go to the free throw line and defend all three positions.”
UTE NOTES: Jayce Johnson saw his first action of the season after missing the first two games with a sprained foot. The 7-foot sophomore finished with 10 points, five rebounds and two blocked shots in 15 minutes of action . . . After getting 35 turnovers in their first two games, the Utes only had six against Missouri . . . This marked the first regular-season game between the Utes and Tigers. The only other two times they met on the basketball floor was in NCAA play. In 1944, the year Utah won the NCAA Tournament, it beat Missouri 45-35 and in 1978 the Utes defeated the Tigers in a first-round game 86-79 in double overtime . . . The Utes and Tigers will play again next year in Missouri.