By JOHN COON, Associated Press
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Faced with renewed offensive struggles, Utah found a way to fight through it and get back on track.
The Utes weathered a sluggish first half and staved off multiple comeback attempts by Tulsa after halftime to pull out a 69-64 victory on Saturday. It took a heavy dose of ugly basketball to help the Utes bounce back from a poor showing at the Wooden Legacy where they went 1-2 over three days.
Utah showed some life after halftime after shooting just 35 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes. Sedrick Barefield led the charge, scoring all 15 of his points in the second half.
“This is a good win for us,” Barefield said. “We changed things up a little bit with what we’re doing and it’s good for us. We’ve got a sense of direction on offense. Still not 100 percent there. Probably about 60 to 70 percent there. But it’s going to get there.”
Both Gach also scored 15 points for the Utes. Jayce Johnson added 12 points and 12 rebounds. Utah (4-3) improved to 3-0 at home this season.
Jeriah Horne scored 15 points, Sterling Taplin added 12 points and Lawson Korita chipped in 11 to lead the Golden Hurricane. Tulsa (5-3) lost for the third time in four games after shooting just 36 percent from the field.
Utah missed nine of its first 11 shots before snapping the slump with four straight baskets. Gach provided the first three, including back-to-back 3-pointers. Riley Battin capped it off with a third 3-pointer to put the Utes ahead 15-6.
“It was a grind,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “The game was a grind and I think the thing that we came up with is that a lot of the season will be a grind. We’re just going have to fight.”
Tulsa took its own cold start on offense a step further. The Golden Hurricane missed all 15 shots they attempted from 3-point range in the first half and opened up 0-of-18 from outside. They shot a scant 26 percent from the field (8-of-31) in the first 20 minutes.
Tulsa didn’t score consecutive field goals for the first time until Daquan Jeffries and Martins Igbanu had back-to-back jumpers in the final two minutes of the half. Their baskets answered back-to-back baskets from Donnie Tillman and Johnson and cut Utah’s lead to 21-15.
The Utes eventually carved out a 30-19 lead on Gach’s third 3-pointer early in the second half.
“We waited to play aggressively until there at the end and that’s really disappointing,” Tulsa coach Frank Haith said. “We had opportunities to really be up in attack mode earlier than the last five or six minutes of the ball game.”
Korita finally broke Tulsa’s long-distance drought with a corner three, highlighting baskets on four straight possessions for the Golden Hurricane. Tulsa trimmed the deficit to 34-30 on Horne’s jumper. Barefield and Parker Van Dyke answered with back-to-back 3-pointers to quell a potential rally and push Utah’s lead to 40-32.
Tulsa cut the deficit to a basket on a 3-pointer from Jeffries with 6:46 remaining. Utah answered with a 7-0 run, capped by a Barefield 3-pointer, to extend its lead to 57-47 with 4:20 left.
Tulsa: Poor shooting ultimately undercut a golden opportunity for the Golden Hurricane to score a big road upset over a Pac-12 team. Tulsa gave itself plenty of chances to get baskets after pulling down 17 offensive rebounds, but the Golden Hurricane just couldn’t get shots to consistently fall.
Utah: Defense came to the rescue for the Utes after an anemic offensive effort. This could be a recurring theme for Utah. With several inexperienced freshmen playing key roles, things are likely to be bumpy on offense as the season progresses.
Barefield missed his first seven shots from the field before finally breaking the ice with a 3-pointer after Tulsa used a 11-4 run to trim Utah’s lead to 34-30. The senior guard came up big over the final 12 ½ minutes, hitting four 3-pointers and going 5-of-6 from the field overall.
Krystkowiak said that Barefield was unable to practice all week after battling strep throat and intestinal issues related to a bout of food poisoning. Barefield lost five pounds during the week and said he felt winded after the game.
His weakened physical condition played a role in his slow start.
“When you don’t play basketball for a second, you just don’t have a feel for the game for a little bit,” Barefield said. “I was not having a feel for the flow and just kind of forcing things. I just had to slow it down.”
CLEANING THE GLASS
Tulsa finished with a 45-38 advantage on rebounds over Utah. It set a new season-high for the Golden Hurricane, who collected 43 rebounds against South Carolina State for their previous high. 17 of those came on the offensive glass. It allowed Tulsa to hang around for 40 minutes. The Golden Hurricane finished with 17 second-chance points and 30 points in the paint.
Tulsa hosts instate rival Oklahoma State on Wednesday.
Utah plays instate rival BYU in the Beehive Classic on Saturday.
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