Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — The Runnin' Utes are coming back home with some hardware.
After a two-game stretch in as many days in Daytona Beach, Florida, Utah was named the Sunshine Slam champions after a gritty 72-58 win over Tulsa in the winner's bracket of the November tournament. With the win, the Utes improve to 5-0 on the season in Craig Smith's first year with the program.
Branden Carlson, who led the team with 15 points and 13 rebounds in the win Sunday, was named the Sunshine Slam MVP for his performance over the three-game tournament that began at the Huntsman Center on Monday. Carlson was the wheels to the vehicle that drove Utah (5-0) as he won several battles in the post for rebounds and was an offensive weapon on the other side of the court.
Carlson put a stamp on his MVP night with an authoritative dunk in the first half on an alley-oop toss from Rollie Worster. Carlson set a screen for Worster before immediately rolling to the basket where Worster found his man with the high lob that was brought down hard by the 7-footer.
And though Utah was the better team in all facets of the game, including a dominant 45-29 win on the boards over the Golden Hurricane, Tulsa (3-2) gave the Utes a battle and never let up.
"I thought we played a complete game," Smith said. "I thought we got better. I thought the last few days we really got better. We had to overcome some adversity with some travel and injuries ... but I thought a lot of guys stepped up. I thought our bench was outstanding all weekend, and we just played with a lot of poise and confidence all the way around — certainly our calling card was we really, really defended."
Utah held the Golden Hurricane to 40% shooting from the field and only four made 3-pointers on 16 attempts. Tulsa guard Sam Griffin led all scores with 18 points in 34 minutes of action, but Utah limited much of what the rest of the team was able to do.
"We know each and every game we may not be the most athletic team, but we control how physical we are and how poised we are throughout the whole game, and I think that we did a really good job this season," said David Jenkins Jr., who finished with 13 points on 3-of-8 shooting from 3-point range.
For much of the first half, Utah couldn't get more than a two-bucket lead over Tulsa following some errant passing and poor shot selection by the Utes. Tulsa cut the lead to one with just over six minutes to play in the half before Utah reeled off an 11-0 run to put some distance on the Golden Hurricane.
It was much of the same in the second half with Tulsa limiting Utah in its ability to build on the lead. Tulsa got as close as a 5-point deficit with eight minutes left in regulation before Utah got a break and pulled away for good. Much of Utah's ability to pull away late came from the free-throw line, where Utah finished the night shooting 75%.
Utah was able to build its lead after Marco Anthony went down with an apparent right ankle injury that kept him out of the game for the remainder of the night. Anthony was able to walk to the bench on his own accord, but Smith said it's still too early to see the impact of his injury.
The Utes were without Gabe Madsen (illness) and Bostyn Holt (injury) for the game. Smith said Holt's season is likely finished due to an injury to one of his knees, though the team will have more knowledge on the severity in the coming days.
Utah will return home with a week off before welcoming in-state rival BYU, who recently beat a ranked Oregon team on the road, to the Huntsman Center on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. MT. The game will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Networks.