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BOISE — The Runnin' Utes found themselves on the short end of a hard-fought, back-and-forth contest with Boise State (7-0), falling 69-67 at Taco Bell Arena.
It was Utah's first real test of the season as well as its first loss, so there were plenty of takeaways from the matchup.
Free throws, free throws, free throws
Perhaps it was road debut jitters, but the Utes (6-1) had a hard time converting free points from the line. Utah scored just eight points on 15 attempts from the charity stripe, while the Broncos made 15-of-20.
The primary culprits were the Utes' top two scorers. Jordan Loveridge hit just 4-of-7 and Delon Wright knocked down 4-of-6. Renan Lenz and Dallin Bachynski each went 0-for-1.
In a game that came down to just two points, those seven missed free throws will haunt the Utes.
For stretches in both halves, Utah struggled to secure defensive rebounds. Boise State pulled in nine offensive boards leading to second chance points at very inopportune times for the Utes.
During the final 11 minutes of the game when the Broncos took the lead, they pulled in four offensive rebounds and capitalized off each of them. In all, Utah was outrebounded 32-28. It was the first time this season that the Utes were beaten on the glass. They'll have to improve as competition increases.
Princeton Onwas was ejected during the first half after his elbow struck Boise State guard Jeff Elorriaga. The foul, determined to be a flagrant 2, resulted in two made BSU free throws plus possession.
The call was a questionable one because it's hard to argue Onwas had any malicious intent during the act, which is a requirement for a "flagrant 2" ruling. Elorriaga was defending closely and Onwas tried to change direction, causing the collision. It was a foul, no doubt, but the flagrant ruling — let alone flagrant 2 — was head-scratching.
A flagrant 2 requires the offender to be ejected, so the Utes lost a starter for the rest of the game. The tide noticeably turned from that point on. The Broncos outscored the Utes 6-2 to close out the final few minutes of the half to stretch their lead to its largest to that point, 32-25.
Ogbe steps up
The stellar play of freshman guard Kenneth Ogbe was the silver lining to the Onwas ejection. The German stepped in and made a major impact in the second half.
Ogbe had made few appearances so far this season, most of them coming in garbage time. He knocked down three 3-pointers during a five-minute span in the second half against the Broncos, the third of which gave the Utes a 46-42 lead with 12 minutes to go in the game. Ogbe finished the night with nine points on 3-of-5 shooting.
"He was huge and made big shots," Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said of Ogbe. "I like his length and the more comfortable he is in his role, we will continue to integrate him more in the lineup."
A little taste of adversity
The Utes faced the most adversity they'd seen this season, playing in a hostile environment against a good team that returned eight players — including all five starters — from last year's NCAA Tournament squad. Utah fought back and came up just short despite the loss of a starter, the lousy free-throw percentage, and a handful of other missed opportunities.
"This was a great college environment and early season test for both teams," Krystkowiak said. "I was really pleased with how we responded with fire in the second half. We made mistakes early and obviously losing Princeton hurt us with our depth. We had open looks at the end of the day and we were able to accomplish a lot of things."
It was a tough loss for the Utes, but Utah fans shouldn't hang their heads. Krystkowiak said this game will help his young team continue to grow.
"This was a good test," he said. "There are plenty of things we can look at going forward. Boise will be a top-25 team and we were really pleased with our performance. This is like a Pac-12 road game and we’re going to play these types of games all season."
Next up: The Utes return home to face another Mountain West Conference opponent on Saturday. Fresno State (6-3) will be in town for a 3 p.m. tip off. Tyson Maddy has covered the University of Utah football and men's basketball teams as a contributing writer for KSL.com Sports since 2011. Follow his Utes coverage on twitter @Tyson_Maddy