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Adam Fondren, Deseret News
Utah Utes guard Justin Bibbins (1) drives between Penn State Nittany Lions forward Lamar Stevens (11) and guard Tony Carr (10) as the University of Utah Runnin' Utes take on the Penn State Nittany Lions in the championship game of the 2018 NIT at Madison Square Garden in New York City on March 30, 2018.
I can say without a doubt — I might have had some times with the Milwaukee Bucks as a player — but there’s a lot of years of playing and coaching that I’ve never enjoyed the year more from start to finish. —Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak

NEW YORK — Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak made one thing real clear. He really liked his team this season, expressing so in the aftermath of an 82-66 loss to Penn State in the NIT championship game Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.

“I can say without a doubt — I might have had some times with the Milwaukee Bucks as a player — but there’s a lot of years of playing and coaching that I’ve never enjoyed the year more from start to finish.”

The Utes went on a foreign tour over the summer and have pretty much been going at it ever since.

“We’ve been grinding and we’re one of the last teams standing, still playing, and I loved every minute of it,” Krystkowiak said. “I’d keep going.”

Krystkowiak later called it the time of his life to be part of a great season and end up in the NIT’s Final Four.

The title game was the last collegiate outing for Utah seniors Gabe Bealer, Justin Bibbins, David Collette and Tyler Rawson.

Bibbins acknowledged it hit him as he walked through the tunnel to the court.

“This chapter ends, another one opens,” he said. “I’m excited for the future, but (I’m) always going to look at this team as family.”

The loss, Bibbins later added, doesn’t take away anything.

ALL-NIT: For the first time in three appearances in the NIT championship game, a Utah player did not win the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award. When the Utes won it in 1947, Vern Gardner won the accolade. In 1974, they finished second but Mike Sojourner still won the award.

This year’s Most Outstanding Player was Lamar Stevens of Penn State. The all-tournament team consisted of Tony Carr (Penn State), Bibbins and Sedrick Barefield (Utah), and Justin Johnson (Western Kentucky).

EXTRA STUFF: The attendance was 11,175. … Donnie Tillman had a team-high six rebounds for Utah. … NIT and Madison Square Garden announced that the semifinals and championship game in 2019 will once again be played at the “World’s Most Famous Arena.” The oldest postseason tournament in the nation has been played in New York for 81 years now.