CHARLESTON, S.C. — — Branden Carlson scored a career-high 31 points and Utah rallied from a 12-point second-half deficit to beat Wake Forest 77-70 on Thursday night in the Charleston Classic.
Wake Forest led 45-33 early in the second half until a 17-3 run gave Utah (3-0) a 68-63 lead with 4:21 remaining. Lawson Lovering’s three-point play sparked the surge. Cole Bajema made a pair of 3-pointers and Carlson added a 3 and a dunk.
Carlson was 12-of-20 shooting, hit four of Utah’s eight shots from long range and blocked five shots. Bajema finished with 11 points and Lovering 10. Eight Utes grabbed at least three of its 38 rebounds.
Rollie Worster pitched in nine points, five rebounds and nine assists for the Utes.
Hunter Sallis scored 20 points to lead Wake Forest (1-2). Cameron Hildreth added 14 points, Andrew Carr had 13 and Zach Keller 10.
Wake Forest shot 53% in the first half and built a 41-31 halftime lead. Hildreth scored 14 first-half points but was 0 of 4 from the floor in the second half.
Utah made half its field goals (30 of 60) while the Demon Deacons finished 47% shooting (28 of 60) overall.
Down ten at the half, the Runnin’ Utes came out of the locker room with a little more poise and played off its defense to outscore the Demon Deacons 17-11 early on in the second frame. The steady hand of Worster and Carlson cut Utah’s deficit back into the single-digits but it was the slip and one-handed jam from Ben Carlson that forced a Wake Forest timeout at the 15:02 mark to bring Utah within 49-46.
Carlson continued to anchor the Utes on both ends of the floor, swatting away four Wake Forest shots in the first eight minutes of the second-half while scoring nine of Utah’s 21 points at the 11:48 media break down 54-52.
The game from that point on stayed at-best a two-possession contest, but it was second-chance effort and team basketball that helped the Runnin’ Utes tie things up with 6:58 to go when Hunter Erickson found Lovering on the dive for the and-1 (60-60).
A huge three on the ensuing possession from Carlson followed by a huge dunk forced yet another Wake Forest timeout – this time with Utah on top 65-60 with 5:33 left to play. The Demon Deacons would cut it down to a one-possession game two more times, but Utah answered each time to push it back to a two-possession lead before sealing the 77-70 victory.
Utah moves on in the winner’s bracket to face #6 Houston Friday at 2:30 p.m. MT.