SALT LAKE CITY - Junior Bennie Rhodes paced the Bulldogs with 15 points and freshman point guard Kevin Olekaibe scored a career-high 13 points for his third consecutive double-digit scoring performance in Fresno State's 76-63 loss at Utah on Tuesday evening in the historic Jon M. Huntsman Center.
After trailing by as many 24 points with 13:07 to play, an improved shooting outing sparked by Rhodes and Olekaibe as well as an inspired effort from freshman Bracken Funk led a surge that closed the gap to 11 in the waning seconds.
"The good thing that hasn't happened all year was that we shot 50 percent from the field and 44 percent from beyond the 3-point arc in the second half," head coach Steve Cleveland said of his team's second-half response to a 33-22 halftime deficit.
Funk, a native of Alpine, Utah, and four-year star for three-time state champion Lone Peak High School, made his second homecoming this season to the Beehive State. The 6-8 forward took control of the boards with a team-high seven rebounds and notched a career-high 11 points, the first double-digit night of his young Bulldog career.
"Bracken gave us a spark off the bench as did Bennie and T.J. (Tyler Johnson)," Cleveland added. "Our freshmen play with energy and we are going to experiment with line-ups."
Sophomore center Greg Smith showed flashes of dominance, including a late first-half bolt of a dunk off a perfectly distributed pass from Funk, and finished with nine points and five rebounds.
"Their bigs did a nice job inside," Cleveland noted of Utah's defensive outing. "Greg did some good things, but got neutralized by their size and strength. They are a good rebounding team and their wings also really crashed the boards."
Fresno State's bench outscored their opponent's reserves for the fourth straight game (30-21), but the Runnin' Utes edge in the paint (38-24), on the offensive glass (20-9), and second chance opportunities (25-10) proved to be too much to overcome.
Utah's Will Clyburn led the perennial Mountain West and postseason contender with 21 points and nine rebounds behind a crisp four of seven from beyond the 3-point arc to move the Utes to 4-2 on the year.
"Hopefully, when we go to Colorado State on Saturday, we can take better care of the basketball and continue to play like we did in parts of the second half tonight," Cleveland said.
Fresno State (1-4) will play its second of a three-game stretch on Saturday at Colorado State.