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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A sluggish start on offense put Utah in a position it has rarely faced this season. The Utes found themselves fighting off a foe playing smart and disciplined basketball.
Everything felt out of sync on offense before halftime. Utah settled for too many outside shots and let Lamar control the pace on both ends of the court.
The second half looked as different as one snowflake from another.
Utah made a greater emphasis to drive to the basket and creating scoring opportunities in the paint. It helped the Utes pull away to secure an 84-57 victory over Lamar on Friday night.
"In the first half, we came out slow," Utah point guard Brandon Taylor said. "We came out real slow. In the second half, we just picked it up and we just got back to our tempo we normally play. We picked it up. We didn't try to look back. We tried to push it down the court as much as we can. We tried to defend as best as we can and it showed."
Jordan Loveridge scored 14 points and collected seven rebounds and Princeton Onwas chipped in 12 points and 10 boards off the bench to lead the Utes. Renan Lenz added 12 points and Delon Wright also chipped in 10 points for Utah (4-0), who won their second game in two days hosting the Global Sports Hoops Showcase.
Rhon Mitchell scored 17 points off the bench and Nimrod Hilliard added 16 for the Cardinals (1-4).
Utah shot 69 percent from the field in the second half and finished 34-of-63 (54.0 percent) overall. The Utes out-rebounded Lamar 37-31 and held a 46-26 edge in points in the paint. The Cardinals shot just 25-of-61 from the field (41 percent).
"At halftime we warned our guys that Utah would come out strong and did," Lamar coach Pat Knight said. "We didn't respond well. We're still learning, but that first half was a positive for our team moving forward."
Utah broke open a close game early in the second half, turning a six-point halftime lead into a double-digit margin behind the efforts of Loveridge and Wright.
The duo hit four straight baskets in the opening minutes of the half, fueling an 11-4 run and giving Utah a 45-32 lead. Once the Utes heated up on offense, they did not cool down.
Lamar threatened to cut the lead to single digits again after jumpers from Mitchell and Amos Wilson made it 51-40. Utah buried the Cardinals behind an 18-4 run. Onwas began the spurt with a dunk and Dakari Tucker finished it with a layup, giving Utah a 69-44 lead with 5:59 remaining.
The Utes pulled away by imposing their will down low. Out of the nine field goals that made up the decisive run, eight came on layups or dunks.
"Those guys got a little more focused on the rim," Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said "They tried to get the ball into the paint. Delon made some nice layups and Jordan made some nice attack moves and that really kind of fueled us."
Lamar offered plenty of resistance to Utah out of the gate. During the first half, the Cardinals edged the Utes in categories where they had dominated against their first three opponents.
It helped the Cardinals keep Utah from running away from them throughout the first half.
Hilliard scored a pair of quick baskets and Wilson slashed in for a layup to push Lamar out to an early 7-3 lead. Loveridge drained a 3-pointer and Lenz converted a 3-point play to put Utah back in front. It helped spark a 13-3 run for the Utes, culminating in a Brandon Taylor 3-pointer and a 16-10 lead.
The Cardinals weren't finished. They turned again to Hilliard, who hit a pair of baskets to close the gap. Lamar finally retook the lead a couple of minutes later, going up 21-20 on a layup from Donovan Ross.
Utah went back in front when Tucker drained a 3-pointer on the next possession. But the Utes could not quite shake the Cardinals.
Lenz hit a couple of baskets to build Utah a five-point cushion. Then Taylor added another 3-pointer to push the Ute lead to six at 32-26. Each time, Mitchell answered with jumpers on the other end to keep Lamar within striking distance going into halftime.
"I thought we kicked ourselves in the foot a little bit with our turnovers early on," Krystkowiak said. "We were a little lethargic offensively. Defensively, we were still pretty solid. They hit some tough shots. Some guys got it going."
Utah will conclude the Global Sports Hoops Showcase on Saturday against Savannah State while Lamar will face Grand Canyon.
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