Utah basketball: The Utes grind out win over Falcons

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The Runnin' Utes had another ugly game Wednesday. The difference between their 54-43 win over Air Force and some of their past contests though is this one was expected to be a little rough around the edges. They always seem to be that way in Air Force's Clune Arena.

The Utes (6-7, 13-14) overcame 13 turnovers, nine of which were committed in the first half, and some poor shot selection in the opening minutes to rally past the Falcons in front of a sparse crowd of 1,862.

Marshall Henderson led the Utes with 16 points, Luka Drca had 13 and Jay Watkins had 10 points. Grant Parker led the Falcons (1-12, 9-17) with 11 points.

"This is always a meat grinder of a game," Utah coach Jim Boylen said of playing the Falcons. "It was a tough physical game. There was some banging going on and I'm thankful for the win."

The Utes trailed by seven in the first half as they struggled against the quicker Falcons. It didn't help either that Henderson missed four of his first five shots, the Utes committed seven turnovers in the first 15 minutes and Watkins had to leave the game to get stitches to seal a cut above his right eye.

Despite the rather unsightly play, Boylen wasn't too worried about the first half performance given the team the Utes were playing.

"It usually takes us a half to figure it out, that is what happens here," he said.

What the Utes learned in the first half was they had to go small.

Center David Foster played just one minute in the second half and Shawn Glover didn't get off the bench in the second half.

Veteran Kim Tillie played 25 minutes total, finishing with six points and nine rebounds and Drca and Carlon Brown did most of the ballhandling for the Utes in the second half.

"We had trouble guarding them in the first half with their quickness," Tillie said. "The small lineup to guard them was better. I was there at the five and it's why I got all those rebounds. I was the only big out there."

Brown was 0-for-3 shooting and finished with five assists and three turnovers to go with five rebounds, but still earned praise from Boylen.

"Carlon Brown played winning basketball," Boylen said. "I thought his poise along with Drca, two veteran guys who have played here before and know how hard it is to play here, dictated the tempo. They had poise in the second half. I told my team at halftime it was a 0-0 game and I thought they were terrific."

Utah pulled away in the second half with a 10-0 run led by Henderson's five points. Drca's basket put Utah up 44-30 with 6:20 remaining.

"This is a tough place to play and the older guys should carry the younger ones," Drca said. "Carlon played with poise, he was really on the point with his passing and Kim was finishing plays and getting rebounds for us. That was a big deal and it got our younger guys going too."