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Adam Fondren, Deseret News
Utah forward Tyler Rawson raises his arms in celebration after tying the game in the first half with a 3-pointer during the Utes' NIT seminfinal game against Western Kentucky at Madison Square Garden in New York City on Tuesday, March 27, 2018.

NEW YORK — Utah isn’t shying away from talk about winning the NIT championship. The Utes fully embrace such thoughts as they prepare for Thursday’s title game against Penn State at Madison Square Garden.

Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak acknowledged there’s an obvious “sense of urgency with the game Thursday to finish this up on a high note.”

Adam Fondren, Deseret News
Utah guard Sedrick Barefield shoots against Western Kentucky in the semifinal round of the 2018 NIT in Madison Square Garden in New York City on Tuesday, March 27, 2018.

The final hurdle for the Utes (23-11) is the Nittany Lions (25-13). They advanced with a 75-60 win over Mississippi State in the semifinals. Utah topped Western Kentucky 69-64 in its semifinal game.

Penn State coach Patrick Chambers noted he’s familiar with the Utes.

“I know Larry. I’ve watched his teams. Obviously I’m up late at night so I can throw them on,” he said. “They are well-coached. They are very skilled. They are very tough. They run a million sets.”

Chambers had more to say about the Utes.

“We’re going to have our hands full,” he said. “We’ll watch some film, get our guys together and we’ll be ready to go Thursday.”

Penn State is led by sophomore guard Tony Carr (19.7 ppg) and sophomore forward Lamar Stevens (15.2 ppg). Others to watch include senior guard Shep Garner (11.5 ppg), a 3-point shooter of note, and junior guard Josh Reaves (10.3 ppg).

“It's a handful. They have so many weapons,” Krystkowiak said. “You look at their team and they have so many guys scoring in double figures.”

The Utes, though, are determined to do what it takes to win the NIT for the first time since 1947.

“That’s our only goal, obviously, and has been since the beginning,” said senior forward David Collette. “We thought we could win this thing from the beginning and obviously we’re here with a shot at it now. So we’ll be trying hard.”

Collette acknowledged that Penn State is a good team with a lot of talented players.

“It’ll be a tough game, but I think if we execute our game plan, we should come out on top,” he said.

In the semifinals, Collette was among four Utes to score in double figures. Justin Bibbins had a team-high 19 points. Sedrick Barefield (14), Collette (13) and Tyler Rawson (12) were the other main contributors.

Although pleased with the outcome, the team kept things relatively subdued. This is Utah’s first NIT championship appearance since 1974.

“We saved the big celebration for tomorrow night,” Collette said.

Adam Fondren, Deseret News
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak walks off the court after the Utes defeated Western Kentucky in the semifinal round of the NIT in Madison Square Garden in New York City on Tuesday, March 27, 2018.

Krystkowiak said that getting to New York for the NIT’s final four has been an “unbelievable experience” for the Utes. He added that it’s a “tremendous feeling” to be one game away from being an NIT champion.

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“We’re really proud of our guys and we're having the time of our life,” Krystkowiak said before Wednesday’s practice in preparation for Penn State. “And we need to try to be that team that's cutting the nets down at the end of this thing.”

Before leaving Salt Lake City, Collette vowed the Utes would bring the championship trophy back home.

“We stick by our word,” he said after Tuesday’s win.

• • •

NIT championship

Utah (23-11)

vs. Penn State (25-13)

Madison Square Garden — New York

Thursday, 5 p.m. (MDT)


Radio: ESPN 700AM