No. 3 Utah 59, SMU 58
LAS VEGAS (AP) _ Keith Van Horn had only one chance and he had to be perfect. So did Andre Miller, or No. 3 Utah was looking at a quick exit from the Western Athletic Conference tournament.
Only three-tenths of a second remained Thursday night and Utah was in desperate trouble. There was only one way the Utes could beat upstart Southern Methodist _ somehow get the ball inside on a lob to Van Horn and hope the ball would somehow find its way in.
Miller lofted the pass from the baseline, and the 6-foot-10 Van Horn soared through the lane. The pass was perfect and so was Van Horn, who tipped the ball through the basket with his right hand, giving Utah a wild 59-58 win.
``I overran the ball a little bit but luckily it went in,″ Van Horn said. ``I knew they had to call it good as long as I didn’t touch the floor.″
Van Horn, a leading candidate for All-America honors, jumped and ran down the court in celebration and his teammates mobbed him while SMU players stood in stunned belief.
The Mustangs had led by 15 points midway through the second half but didn’t score a point in the last 8:20 to help Utah avoid an upset win that might have cost it a top regional seeding in the NCAA tournament.
``It was a scary game,″ said Miller. ``I was relieved when it was over.″
It was Miller who got a second chance after missing the second of two free throws with 16.5 seconds left that would have tied the game at 58 apiece.
Utah fouled quickly and Allen Krist missed the first half of a one-and-one with 13 seconds left. From there, it was all Van Horn.
Van Horn missed a short jumper with about 2 seconds left, but the ball bounced away from the basket toward the baseline and touched an SMU player before going out of bounds with three-tenths of a second left.
Utah called a timeout to plan the last play. Rules state that with three-tenths of a second left or less, a player cannot catch and shoot for a basket to count, meaning a tip was the only way for Van Horn to score.
``We had to have a tip,″ Utah coach Rick Majerus said. ``Andre threw it up and Keith threw it down.″
Jay Poerner was guarding inside but could do little as the pass was tipped in.
``It was a perfect pass and a perfect catch,″ Poerner said. ``It doesn’t even happen that good in practice nine out of 10 times.″
Utah (24-3) trailed by 15 points in the second half of the quarterfinal game, but held the Mustangs (16-12) scoreless for the last 8:20 of the game.
Van Horn was everywhere in the final seconds, twice narrowly missing stealing the ball under the Utah basket when SMU was trying to imbound with 14.8 seconds left.
``It’s a tough way to lose any game but All America players make All America plays,″ SMU coach Mike Dement said.
Van Horn led all scorers with 25 points while Michael Doleac had 12 for Utah. Poerner had 21 for SMU and Rich had 15, all in the second half.
``We forgot who we were and how we got here,″ said Majerus, clearly disgusted with Utah’s early play. ``I thought SMU played extremely hard and we were very ordinary in our effort.″
SMU led 54-39 on a basket by Jemeil Rich with 12:27 left, but could score only four more points _ and just one field goal _ the rest of the way.
Two of those came on a pair of free throws when Majerus was called for a technical with 10:48 remaining, and the final points came on a basket by Jay Poerner with 8:20 left that was the final score of the game for SMU.
Utah led 20-19 before Tijjani hit a basket to spark a 10-2 run to give the Mustangs their biggest lead of the half at 29-22. Tijjani scored all eight of his first half points during the run.
Jemeil Rich, who was scoreless in the first half, scored nine straight points for SMU to open the second half, the final two on a reverse layup under Van Horn to give the Mustangs a 41-30 lead with 17:22 to play.
But Rich was not done, helping SMU build on the lead by hitting a 3-pointer, a free throw and, finally, a driving layup to put the Mustangs up by 54-39, their biggest lead.