NEW YORK CITY -- After another disappointing first-round exit at the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas earlier this month, Utah never fathomed playing this deep into March.
But after being denied an NCAA Tournament bid, the Utes made the most of their NIT experience, winning four straight games before finally losing to Penn State on Thursday in the NIT Final in New York.
The Nittany Lions, who finished 6th in the Big Ten this season, overpowered the Utes with a strong second half to win 82-66, and denied Utah their first NIT championship since 1947.
Utah did start out on top. Sedrick Barefield knocked down a jump shot with 2:17 left in the opening quarter to lift the Utes up 20-14 at Madison Square Garden. Barefied led the 2-seed with 22 points, but then the Nittany Lions went on a 10-0 run to go up for good the rest of the way.
A Justin Bibbin’s layup early in the third got Utah back within a deuce, before Penn State began to dominate the rest of the way. Lamar Stevens led PSU with 28 points, and Tony Carr finished one rebound shy of a triple-double with 15 points, 14 assists and 9 rebounds.
David Collette did leave the game early after injuring his neck while going for a loose ball in the second quarter. He was rushed to the locker room, only to play for a couple more minutes before being benched the rest of the way.
Freshman Jayce Johnson played the rest of the game for Colette. The senior joins Bibbins and Tyler Rawson as Ute starters to play their final game in red. The Utes finish the campaign up at 23-12.