You know we get a lead or we get a little hot then we get unfocused. Basketball is a game of runs but we’ve got to slow down their run. —Donnie Tillman
INDIANAPOLIS — Utah could have used Jimmy Chitwood and the rest of the Hickory Huskers Tuesday night against Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse. The Utes needed plenty of other things as well in an 81-69 setback to the Bulldogs.
“Hoosiers” this was not — all because of a pivotal stretch that decided the outcome in the second half.
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said it was a combination of things that allowed Butler to go on a 14-0 run that broke a 39-39 tie and ultimately proved to be the difference.
Krystkowiak said the Utes didn’t guard very hard and got real sloppy with the ball.
“It’s a really bad combination when you’re not defending, and then you have four consecutive turnovers,” he explained. “I mean that’s what we talk about when you’re on the road. The margin of error is small and things balloon and we didn’t have the fortitude to put an end to that run.”
Five Bulldogs scored in the decisive outburst. The Utes, meanwhile, went 4:47 without a single point.
“I thought we got real sloppy. There were a number of times that we passed up open shots and then took harder shots,” Krystkowiak said. “And then we tried to create stuff that wasn’t there and ended up turning it over. So it was a bad little stretch.”
Kelan Martin finished with a game-high 29 points and 11 rebounds for Butler (7-2). Tyler Wideman and Paul Jorgensen contributed 18 and 16 points, respectively.
Donnie Tillman scored a career-high 20 for Utah (6-2). Sedrick Barefield added 14, while Gabe Bealer and Justin Bibbins wound up with 10 apiece.
“We had some great stretches. We’ve just got to stay consistent defensively,” Tillman said. “You know we get a lead or we get a little hot then we get unfocused. Basketball is a game of runs but we’ve got to slow down their run.”
The Utes shot 42.4 percent from the field in the setback. They were out-rebounded 31-26 and gave up 17 points off of turnovers.
Krystkowiak said the lesson learned is “you’ve got to be a lot better, you’ve got to be sharper, you’ve got to play harder.”
There’s also, he added, no place for mindless turnovers and different things.
“If we want to be average, which I don’t think any of us want to do, then we’ll break out of the funk and start, you know, paying attention and have a little bit more of an edge to us,” Krystkowiak said.
Trailing 53-39, Utah broke from its lengthy drought on a basket by Tillman with 12:55 remaining. The freshman scored the Utes’ final eight points, helping them close the gap to five points with 2:22 to go. Butler, though, responded with a 7-0 burst to thwart the threat and ice the outcome.
There were four lead changes and three ties in the first half. Butler led 34-31 at the break with a late 9-2 spurt. The Bulldogs scored the final six points while holding the Utes scoreless for more than three minutes.
Utah led 25-17 after a 3-point shot by Bibbins with 9:16 left in the half. Butler fired back with Martin, Jorgensen and Wideman powering a comeback. They combined to score 17 points in the last 7:24, doubling the Bulldogs’ point production.
Martin led all scorers with 14 points at the break. The forward wound up making 12 of 19 shots by game’s end.
“He got into a rhythm, got to his spots,” said Tillman, who added that when a great player like that hits shots you can’t really do much about it.
Utah returns to action Saturday (5:30 p.m., P12N) to face Utah State in the inaugural Beehive Classic at Vivint Arena. The Utes and Aggies haven’t met since 2010.
“We’re going to have to get a little rest after this trip and get back and have a good Thursday-Friday practice and find out a way to try to beat the Aggies,” Krystkowiak said.