LAS VEGAS — Utah didn’t get the heavyweight championship belt it wanted in the MGM Resorts Main Event at T-Mobile Arena. UNLV claimed it in decisive fashion late Wednesday night with an 85-58 victory, er, knockout.
Brandon McCoy led the Rebels (5-0) with 26 points and 17 rebounds.
“Their defense was extremely good all night long,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “They had a bunch of players that played great and we got our butts kicked. It’s not nearly as indicative of the score.”
Krystkowiak acknowledged that it may have come down to energy. The fact the Utes were 2 for 20 from 3-point range obviously didn’t help, nor did getting outrebounded 46-30.
Krystkowiak said it didn’t give them much of a chance.
UNLV, playing in front of a partisan crowd just a few miles from its home court at the Thomas & Mack Center, led the game for almost 36 minutes.
“Their players stepped up and for the most part we didn’t do what we needed to do,” Krystkowiak said.
The loss was Utah’s first of the season. It followed victories over Prairie View A&M, Mississippi Valley State, Missouri and Mississippi in an ongoing opening stretch of six games in two weeks.
Krystkowiak declined to use weariness as an excuse, however, saying it would be “lame” to do so.
Utah trailed 43-33 at the end of a first half featuring four ties and three lead changes. Krystkowiak noted it was a two-possession game until the Rebels scored an uncontested basket and tipped one in shortly thereafter because no one blocked out.
“So it’s really not that complicated. It’s some of the little things you talk about in basketball,” Krystkowiak said. “It would have been a lot different mindset had we come into the locker room without a double-digit (deficit).”
Utah’s last lead was 10-9. The Utes then went on a scoring drought that lasted more than four minutes. They were outscored 8-0 during the span and missed seven straight shots from the field.
Despite the cold spell, Utah heated up enough to fire back and tie the score up three times after that.
UNLV managed to end the final deadlock with a three-point play by McCoy. Leading 24-21 with 8:08 remaining in the half, the Rebels gradually built their advantage up to the halftime margin — getting there with a basket at the buzzer by Kris Clyburn.
Things got uglier for Utah when play resumed. UNLV opened with a 6-0 run that swelled to 12-2 and eventually 22-6 to put the game well out of reach.
Trailing 65-39, Utah’s final 12 minutes in the tournament that awards a boxing title belt to its champion proved to be as exciting as a sparring match. A few jabs here and there, but nothing real eventful as UNLV maintained a lead of at least 21 points the rest of the way.
“It’s kind of symbolic of the division we were playing in, this heavyweight division. I made the comparison to a heavyweight fight that’s going 15 rounds and you’ve got to be ready,” Krystkowiak said. “We got to about the sixth round and things were fine. We hit the halfway point and we had that little letdown right before halftime.”
True freshman Donnie Tillman, who played at nearby Findlay Prep, was a bright spot for the Utes. He finished with a double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Utah (4-1) returned to Salt Lake City on a charter flight right after the game. The Utes face Eastern Washington on Friday (6 p.m., P12N) in the Huntsman Center.
The Eagles (3-3) also participated in the tournament. They placed third in the “Middleweight” bracket after losing to Georgia State (68-50) on Monday and defeating Eastern Kentucky (83-62) on Wednesday.
"We want to go to Utah and compete against them,” Eastern Washington coach Shantay Legans said to goeags.com. “They are a very good basketball club. They have everything.”Comment on this story
After opening the season with an 82-61 win over Walla Walla, the Eagles are playing 10 consecutive games away from home. This is their seventh stop in 15 days.
"It's going to be fun for us at the end of a road trip to see how mentally tough we are," Legans continued. "We'll go out there and compete against those guys."
On Nov. 14, Eastern Washington prevailed at Stanford, 67-61. Senior guard/forward Bogdan Bliznyuk leads the Eagles in scoring with 15.3 points per game.
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(3-3) at Utah (4-1)
Friday, 6 p.m.
TV: Pac-12 Network
Radio: ESPN 700AM