Hot-shooting Utah takes control early, dumps Demons

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah -- Northwestern State covered a long distance in a short time to get to Wednesday night’s game at Utah.

The Utes immediately took command by scoring from distance and used a 3-point barrage from point guard Justin Bibbins to preserve a comfortable spread throughout, stretching it out at the end in an 84-62 basketball victory in front of an announced crowd of 13,125 at the Jon M. Huntsman Center.

The Demons played for the second time in 24 hours, 1,182 miles and 24 hours removed from a loss Tuesday night at 17th-ranked Oklahoma, taking an early-morning flight through Denver in lieu of their usual game-day shootaround.

But it was Utah’s uncanny early 3-point eruption that put the Utes (8-3) in charge. They hit a season-best 15 shots behind the arc, with Bibbins pouring in seven of 10 (five of six after halftime) and Tyler Rawson adding four of six, with all four makes coming in the game’s first six minutes. Each scored a game-high 25 points.

“They came out on fire, made eight of their first 11. When you give up a 14-1 run to open the game, you’re in trouble,” said 19th-year Demons’ coach Mike McConathy, “and against a well-coached team, it’s a very big hole.

“We competed, but give Utah credit, every time we pushed to cut the margin under 10, they pushed back,” said McConathy. “We weren’t able to consistently shoot the ball well enough to sustain our runs.”

NSU got a season-best 18 points from senior swingman Iziahiah Sweeney, with junior center Ishmael Lane scoring 13 and making three steals. Senior point guard Jalan West scored nine, hitting 3-of-4 behind the arc, and freshman forward Darian Dixon also posted nine points.

The Demons sank only 32 percent overall, just 28 percent in the first half while falling behind 41-26.

Tyler Rawson was phenomenal. 25 points, red hot early. Then in the second half Bibbins made the 3s every time we were positioned to get the lead down to single digits,” said McConathy, “but we could never recover from the way they started the game.”

“We missed too many inside opportunities. There was a big difference in the physicality inside tonight vs. last night at Oklahoma, and we didn’t fare well,” said McConathy.

NSU trailed 23-5 eight minutes into play, but scored 13 of the next 18 points to get back within 10 with 6:52 left in the half. The Demons got no closer than 13 points, four times, in the second half.

“We’ll be a better team after Christmas,” said McConathy. “Once we get into our league, with the challenges we’ve faced in our non-conference schedule, we’re battle-tested and that will pay dividends.”

NSU’s 18-game Southland Conference slate begins Dec. 28 at Nicholls.

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