OREM, Utah – Sam Houston State had things tied up in the final minutes, but the Utah Valley Wolverines hit four of their final five shots from the field to hold off the Bearkats, 85-79, on Saturday afternoon at UCCU Center.
The Kats (4-8) placed three players in double figures, including two – Kai Mitchell and Josh Delaney – finishing with double-doubles. Marcus Harris led all players with 22 points, hitting nine of 13 shots from the floor and three of SHSU’s nine 3-point buckets.
Mitchell put in 15 of his season-high 19 points in the second half and added 10 rebounds for his second straight double-double, while Delaney finished with 15 points and 10 assists for his first career double-double.
Sam Houston shot a solid 45.6 percent from the field and turned the ball over just 10 times, but the Wolverines (10-4) were able to win their 20th consecutive home game by going 32-for-40 from the foul line and hitting 23 of their 42 shots from the field. Much of that was done in the second half when they went 22-for-28 at the charity stripe, compared to the Kats shooting just 13 for the game.
The Toolson brothers were big for the second straight year against SHSU, with Jake Toolson leading UVU with 20 points and Conner Toolson coming in right behind him with 18 as two of the five UVU players in double figures.
Sam Houston led by as much as three in the second half, and trailed by as much as six points with less than seven minutes to play before coming all the way back to tie the game at 74-74 on a four-point play by Chad Bowie with 3:34 to go.
But UVU responded with a score on its next possession to retake the lead, one which they would not surrender again.
Harris made things interesting with a quick five-point spurt of his own in the game’s final 40 seconds, including a 3-point basket that cut the lead to 80-79 with just 27 seconds remaining.
After two more UVU free throws pushed the lead back to 82-79 the Kats had one final chance to tie it up, but Conner Toolson came up with a block of Harris’ 3-point try to seal the win.
HOW IT HAPPENED
The Kats held an early lead before a 10-3 Wolverine run pushed them in front 21-16 nearly midway through the half. A quick six points in the following two minutes included two buckets from Harris and one from Kai Mitchell, tying it back up 22-22 before UVU answered once again with eight of the game’s next 10 points.
The Wolverines would build their lead up to as much as seven after making four straight free throws, part of an effort that saw them double up the Kats the line, hitting 10 of 12 tries. Sam Houston had just two free throws attempts in the first 19 minutes of the game before Delaney and Chidozie Ndu each dropped in two in the final minute, bringing Sam Houston to within 34-31; however, UVU’s Benjamin Nakwaasah would go coast-to-coast just before the halftime buzzer for his second field goal of the game, giving the home team a five-point lead at the break.
Sam Houston forced just six turnovers in the opening half, but came out strong defensively in the second half, forcing five Wolverine turnovers by the first media timeout. That, in addition to a 9-1, helped the Kats go up 40-37. That lead would go to 47-43 after a 3-pointer from Albert Almanza, but UVU immediately answered with consecutive triples of their own by Conner Toolson to start an 8-0 run that surged them back in front 51-47.
However, the Wolverines were able to deliver a knockout punch as the Kats hung around thanks to hitting seven of its 13 threes in the second half and 53 percent of its 32 shots from the floor overall. UVU was able to push its lead back up to five on multiple occasions, but Mitchell continued to have his way against the Wolverine posts and eventually found paydirt for the seventh time in the game with 7:45 to go, once again tying it at 61-61.
But despite the Kats hanging around, they were never able to retake the lead after that four-point lead early in the period and did not draw even again until Bowie’s four-point play tied it again at 74-74.
The Kats will have a nine-day break before hosting one final game in the 2018 calendar year, closing out non-conference play on Dec. 31 against Texas Lutheran. Tipoff is set for 2:00 p.m. at Johnson Coliseum, with Southland Conference play set to open up on Jan. 5 when the Kats host Abilene Christian.