SALT LAKE CITY — Thank goodness for that fast start by the Utah basketball team Thursday night in its season opener against the University of Maine.
Because if not for the quick start when the Utes scored 25 points in the opening eight minutes and outscored their opponent by 15 points, the Utes might have lost to a team that was 6-26 last year, was breaking in a new coach and picked near the bottom of the America East Conference this year.
Over the final 32 minutes, the Utes were outscored by a team that came from 2,500 miles away and was playing its second game in three nights.
The Utes still came away with a 75-61 victory at the Huntsman Center to start the season 1-0, but it wasn’t a night to be doing backflips about their performance.
“We have to get better, that's the bottom line,” said coach Larry Krystkowiak. “It’s the second game in a row that we’ve been outscored in the second half in our building. That’s not good.”
It happened a week earlier when the Utes jumped out to a large lead against the College of Idaho in an exhibition game only to see the lead shrink in the second half. In that game, the Utes did clear their bench, but Thursday night, they kept starters in until the final minute.
The Utes were led by their seniors, Sedrick Barefield, who scored a team-high 18 points and Parker Van Dyke, who added 11, as well as sophomore Donnie Tillman, who scored 15 with five rebounds in 23 foul-plagued minutes.
The two seniors took responsibility for the team’s so-so performance particularly on the defensive end and told their teammates in the locker room afterward.
“We’ve got to be better defensively, we’ve got to stick to the gameplan and we’ve got to take better care of the ball,” said Barefield, who made five of the team’s 14 turnovers.
“We have to bring that same intensity in the second half that we have in the first half,” said Van Dyke, who sank three 3-pointers from the same spot in the left corner. “We can’t come out in the second half and have any letdowns. We can’t let our offense affect our defense.”
Like they did in their exhibition win last week, the Utes started quickly, racing out to a 25-10 lead less than eight minutes into the game. At that point the Utes were 9 of 10 from the field and 6 of 7 from 3-point range. However, after that, the Utes could only make 2 of their next 17 3-point tries as the Black Bears were content to stay back in their 1-1-3 zone and let the Utes keep missing.
The Ute made two baskets in the final 30 seconds of the first half to push the lead to 45-28, but Maine got back into the game in the second half and made things uncomfortable for the Utes.
Utah went more than nine minutes without a field goal during one stretch and saw their lead cut to 60-51 before Barefield made back-to-back runners in the lane around the five-minute mark.
Two players hurt the Utes with their outside shooting — junior Isaiah White, who scored a game-high 24 points, and Terion Moss with four 3-pointers off the bench for 13 points.2 comments on this story
UTE NOTES: The Utes head to Minnesota on Saturday for a Monday night game against the Gophers . . . Freshman Timmy Allen had a solid game with six points, six rebounds and six assists . . . Maine is the alma mater of former Ute basketball coach Jim Boylen, who preceded Krystkowiak as coach . . . The attendance was listed as 10,971, which was interesting since the top part of the area was curtained off and the bottom level holds just 8,400 and was a little more than half full . . . After playing at Minnesota, the Utes return home for games against Mississippi Valley State on Thursday before playing in the Wooden Classic in Fullerton Nov. 22-25.