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Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
Utah Utes center Jayce Johnson (34) goes to the hoop against Tulsa Golden Hurricane forward Simon Falokun (44) at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018.

SALT LAKE CITY – Saturday’s Utah-Tulsa basketball game will not be remembered as one of the great games in the history of the Huntsman Center. In fact, the first half would likely make the list of 10 worst halves ever played in the 50-year-old arena.

Even Ute coach Larry Krystkowiak commented afterward that “we set the game back to the pre-shot clock era” in the first half when the two teams combined for just 40 points.

Thankfully both teams woke up in the second half and doubled their point output as the Utes grinded out a 69-64 victory to improve to 4-3 on the season, while the Golden Hurricane dropped to 5-3.

For Utah it was a nice bounce-back from a dismal performance last weekend at the Wooden Legacy Tournament in California where they lost by 11 to Hawaii and 22 to Northwestern, while defeating Grand Canyon by nine.

Sedrick Barefield recovered from a slow start to score 15 points and hit clutch baskets down the stretch, freshman Both Gach sparked the Utes early and also finished with 15 points, while junior center Jayce Johnson had his best game of the year with a double-double of 12 points and 12 rebounds.

“It was a grind,” said Krystkowiak. “The thing we came up with is the season might be a grind. We’re just going to have to fight. We made enough plays in the second half. We’re making progress.”

The Utes never trailed and kept a fairly comfortable lead most of the game thanks to some ice-cold shooting by the Golden Hurricane, who came into the game, shooting a respectable 48.8 percent from the field and 35.6 from 3-point range. Tulsa had recently scored 86 points in a loss to No. 5 Nevada.

However, early in the game, going against Utah’s 1-2-2 zone defense, Tulsa couldn’t hit anything – literally from 3-point range as the Golden Hurricane went 0 for 15 from beyond the arc and just 25.8 percent overall in falling behind 23-17 at halftime.

Utah wasn’t a heck of a lot better and except for an eight-point burst midway through the half by Gach, the 6-7 freshman guard from Minnesota, the Utes wouldn’t have made it to 20 by halftime either. The Utes were just 9 for 26 from the field and 3 for 12 from 3-point range in the first half.

“It wasn’t actually defense because we missed a number of open shots and they misses a number of open shots,” said Krystkowiak of the first half shooting display. “It was a little bit of fools gold.”

Tulsa missed three more 3-pointers to start the second half before finally connecting at the 13:56 mark when Lawson Korita sank one from the right corner. Jeriah Horne, who led his team with 15 points, then hit back-to-back 3s and when Daquan Jeffries sank a 3-pointer with 6:38 left, the Golden Hurricane were suddenly within three at 50-47.

However, Utah's Timmy Allen drove inside for a three-point play, Gach hit a free throw and Barefield drained a 3-pointer from out front to move the lead back to 10. About 90 seconds later, Barefield sank a three from the same spot to make it 60-49 and the Utes cruised home.

“In those moments when the shot’s going in, you feel like the next one’s going in too and that was my mentality to take good shots that were going to be benficial to the team,” said Barefield, who had missed most of the week’s practices because of strep throat and an intestinal problem.

The Utes used a new starting lineup Saturday with freshman forward Riley Battin making his first start in place of fellow freshman Allen with Gach making his third start on the guardline. Battin finished with nine points and four rebounds, while Allen had four points, four rebounds and a team-high five assists off the bench.

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The Utes have a week to work on a host of things before playing BYU Saturday at Vivint Arena in a noon tipoff. Then they’ll have another week to prepare for No. 10-ranked Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Dec. 15.

“We’re going to take advantage of the situation for sure,” Krystkowiak said of the upcoming light schedule. “We’re treating it a little bit like a training camp. We need time to teach some concepts and we’ve got some guys that are dinged up a little bit, so it’s good to get a handle on their injuries.”