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Utah Basketball: Runnin’ Utes Give MSU Too Many Losing Chances ‘ Utah

Mississippi State did what it could to hand Wednesday’s Fort Myers tip-off championship game to the University of Utah, firing brick after brick on the rim before dropping a couple of shots in the final minutes.

The Utes would not accept the generosity.

Coach Craig Smith’s side were almost as accommodating the day before Thanksgiving, staying cool at crucial moments in the defensive exchange, and the Bulldogs went undefeated with a 52-49 win at the Suncoast Credit Union Arena.

“Tonight is obviously a difficult one (to lose). Man, our guys fought really hard and we gave ourselves every opportunity to win. We missed so many clean, open looks in the second half.” — Utah basketball coach Craig Smith.

Mississippi State, ranked 28th on KenPom.com, went 6-0 up with the tournament title. Utah fell to 4-2 and will return to Salt Lake City and host St. Thomas (5-2) at the Huntsman Center Saturday night, wondering what would have happened had it made a few more free throws in crunch time and even got average nights from his two top scorers, Gabe Madsen and Branden Carlson.

“Tonight is obviously a difficult one (to lose). Man, our boys fought really, really hard and we gave ourselves every opportunity to win,” Smith told ESPN 700 AM radio. “We missed so many clean, open looks in that second half.”

Utah scored just one field goal and missed three crucial free throws in the final five minutes as the game drew to a close. Still, the Utes had two chances to equalize in the last 20 seconds.

Dashawn Davis, who led all scorers with six 3-pointers for 18 points, missed a free throw with 17.2 seconds left but Madsen missed a 3-pointer seconds later. Then Tolu Smith missed a freebie by 4.6 seconds and Utah got a timeout to set up one last game.

However, Rollie Worster fired an airball at the buzzer from well past the 3-point line, and the Bulldogs ran away with the tournament title.

“It’s something we do every day in training,” Madsen said of the final shot. “We were originally going to let it go and then I think they kind of backed off (that’s what the Utes called Timeout). We wanted to make sure we got a chance.”

Worster’s rushed shot wasn’t expected, but many others were as Madsen hit 2 of 14 from the floor and 2 of 10 from 3-point range. After failing to score in the second half of Monday’s 68-64 win over Georgia Tech, center Branden Carlson stayed cold and went scoreless on 0-of-6 shooting.

“We missed a lot of open looks, especially me,” Madsen said. “I don’t know, lots of open looks man. You can say whatever you want, but sometimes the ball just doesn’t go in and yeah, tough night.”

The Utes shot 33% from field and 21% from deep (4 of 19), which isn’t bad considering the Bulldogs were 17 of 67 (25%) from field and 9 of 38 from long range . Take away Davis’ 6 of 9 efforts with the 3-ball, and Miss State was 3 of 29.

“I thought we played pretty well defensively,” Smith said. “I mean, if you hold a team 25%, you’re going to win that game 95 times out of 100, I would think.”

Utah made 11 turnovers in the first half as MSU scraped out a 25-21 lead at the break, then did a much better job with the ball in the second half, giving it away just three times after halftime. The Bulldogs had eight steals.

“Revenues and then obviously just a recovery (costs for Utah),” Madsen said. “And on the track, that’s what got us. They got some offensive rebounds and were able to pull it back (and score) and ended up beating us.

Mississippi State converted 19 offensive rebounds into 16 second-chance points. The key sequence came after Marco Anthony took one of two free throws to give Utah a 45-42 lead with 4:37 left.

MSU missed three straight 3-pointers but snagged offensive rebounds on all three misfires. Then Davis got free for his fifth treble to equalize. After Worster’s shot went in and out, Smith made a jumper that came after, what else, an offensive rebound.

“We knew this was going to be a bloodbath, physically,” Smith said. “They do. …. We have to play so physically and robustly. That’s probably how we’ll play in the end.”

Ben Carlson and Anthony each scored 10 points to lead the Utes, while freshman Keba Keita had another fine night off the bench with four points and seven rebounds.

“I thought Keba Keita was outstanding tonight,” said Craig Smith. “(Tolu) Smith is a burden. This guy is going to be one of the best players, certainly one of the best big men, we’ll see.

Utah’s coach also liked what Ben Carlson delivered with four rebounds for 4 of 6 shots.

“Ben Carlson took monster strides from where he was three weeks ago to where he is today,” Smith said. “I thought he was really good tonight.”

Utah got 15 points from the bench, Mississippi State zero.

A week beginning Thursday, Utah opens the Pac-12 game by hosting undefeated Arizona.

“We’re going to keep climbing,” Smith said. “I’m really looking forward to the future of this team.”

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