Wednesday night was a Welcome Home night of sorts for the Utah Valley men’s basketball team.
After its second 3-game road trip of WAC play, the Wolverines were finally home at the UCCU Center with a lot to play for.
Utah Valley took advantage of its home floor.
Justin Harmon finished with a team-high 17 points, Le’Tre Darthard chipped in 16 points and the Wolverines knocked off UT Arlington, 78-59, to clinch a share of the WAC regular season title at the UCCU Center.
“It was a battle tonight,” Utah Valley head coach Mark Madsen. “UTA came at us with a lot of energy, but we fought and fought and broke it open late. I give our guys a lot of credit for putting their foot on the gas and being aggressive. Le’Tre (Darthard) made some big shots in the second half and Justin got going in the second half and got to the rim. I could go down the list with our players. Players make programs. Every single player in our locker room plays a big role on this team. We finished strong on the road last week at Abilene Christian and then to come back here and win a WAC championship on our home floor, that’s meaningful. I’m proud of our players.”
It took about about 20 minutes on Wednesday night. Back and forth the Wolverines and Mavericks went in the first half.
An 8-0 run capped by a Brandyn Talbot 3-pointer gave UT Arlington a 31-28 lead with 52 seconds left in the first half.
However, after a pair of Le’Tre Darthard free throws, UT Arlington may have changed the outcome on its final possession of the half.
The Mavericks had a chance to close out the half on a high note. However, with six seconds remaining, Brandyn Talbot threw a pass out of bounds, giving the ball back to Utah Valley for the final shot.
It may have been drawn out in the timeout. Or, perhaps it was simply luck. But, Aziz Bandaogo may have made the play of the night. Out of the timeout, Trey Woodbury put up a deep 3-pointer off a pick and roll with Bandaogo.
As Woodbury’s shot was flying through the air, UT Arlington completely forgot about Bandaogo, who was rolling to the basket. Because of this miscue, Bandaogo was able to get high in the air, grab the Woodbury. miss and slam it home as time expired to give Utah Valley a 32-31 lead at halftime.
Here is the final play of the first half in Orem. pic.twitter.com/62Y2wmOLRb
— WACHoopsDigest (@WACHoopsDigest) March 2, 2023
However, when Utah Valley took control, it took control. Justin Harmon scored the first five points of the half to give Utah Valley a 37-31 lead. However, UT Arlington kept coming. Chendall Weaver and Marion Humphrey went on a 5-0 run to cut the deficit to one.
Back and forth the teams went throughout the first part of the second half. Marion Humphrey’s layup with 12:16 to play cut the Utah Valley deficit to three.
Unfortunately for the Mavericks, that is when things went South in a hurry. Technically, it came on a bad shot with the shot clock winding down.
Tahj Small took a pass on the left wing, pump-faked Brandyn Talbot, took a step to his right, and knocked down a 3-pointer as the shot clock buzzer went off.
Nothing but the bottom of the net.
It was the start of an 8-0 run, which gave Utah Valley some breathing room.
Per the usual in college basketball, offensive rebounds have a good chance of leading to 3-pointers.
On the following Utah Valley possession, Aziz Bandaogo came down with an offensive rebound. Bandaogo then found Le’Tre Darthard in the left corner. Bottom. All of a sudden it was a 53-44 Utah Valley lead with 10:52 to play.
Darthard capped off the 8-0 run with a driving layup to give Utah Valley its largest lead at 55-44 with 9:42 to play.
Utah Valley pushed the lead to 11 two minutes later on a Trey Woodbury driving layup.
Following Marion Humphrey’s bucket with seven minutes to play, Utah Valley took complete control.
Tim Ceaser knocked down his second 3-pointer of the night to ignite another 8-0 run, pushing the lead to 16. UT Arlington was never able to recover.
The Mavericks got as close as 14 on a Marion Humphrey 3-pointer. However, Le’Tre Darthard responded on the following Utah Valley possession with a 3-pointer of his own.
Just for good measure and to put the icing on the cake, Justin Harmon hit a driving layup to cap the scoring for Utah Valley.
It is the second time in three years Utah Valley has won the regular season title. The Wolverines won a share of the title in 2020-21. With a win on Friday night in the regular season finale, the Wolverines can clinch the title outright.
Along with Harmon and Darthard, Aziz Bandaogo was the only other Wolverine in double figures with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Utah Valley shot 61.5 percent from the field in the second half and 50 percent for the game.
Kyron Gibson led UT Arlington with 16 points. Marion Humphrey and Dario Domingos each had 10 points. Wednesday was the first time since Snoop Johnson took over as interim head coach three weeks ago that the Mavericks did not make 10-plus 3-pointers in a game.
UT Arlington will finish up its regular season at Seattle U on Friday.
Utah Valley hosts Stephen F. Austin on Senior Night on Friday at the UCCU Center.