Utah Valley head men’s basketball coach Mark Madsen loves talking about his players.
It’s not that he doesn’t see the tactics or note the big plays that swing momentum for his squad. It’s just that he sees the individuals who are getting things done on the floor.
Take, for example, what Madsen said when asked about a key stretch during the 73-64 Wolverine win over UT-Rio Grande Valley in the home finale at the UCCU Center in Orem on Saturday evening.
The visiting Vaqueros had put together a quick 11-0 run midway through the second half and cut a 17-point UVU lead to just 54-48.
At that point, Wolverine guard Jamison “JJ” Overton drilled a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock, then scored a pair of free throws and two straight layups for a 9-0 run of his own.
But Madsen didn’t want to talk about the impact of the points on the win, focusing instead on what Overton brings to the team.
“I’m proud of JJ Overton as someone who studies his craft,” Madsen said. “He works hard and put a lot of time in the gym as well as in the film room. And it shows. JJ can play different positions. He did such a great job of protecting the ball, controlling tempo and making his teammates better. I can’t say enough about JJ Overton and what he means to this program.”
One of the strengths Madsen has is how he connects with his players, something that is evident both in how he discusses them in interviews and in how he reacts when they have success during a game.
Late in the game against UTRGV, sophomore Le’Tre Darthard kept after an offensive rebound, ripping it away from a Vaquero. Madsen was visibly pumped up after he saw that effort.
“Le’Tre plays defense, he rebounds, he knocks down threes, he knocks down free throws,” Madsen said. “You can build a program around a guy like Le’Tre. You think about building a foundation. Le’Tre is bricks in the foundation of a program. But then on the court, he’s an unbelievable player. When I saw that rebound, I just saw tenacity and ferocity in Le’Tre, taking the ball away from bigger players. Le’Tre is tall but his heart is the size of a mountain.”
Perhaps the toughest guy for Madsen to talk about Saturday was senior Evan Cole, who was the only player honored on Senior Night.
“I was proud of Evan Cole tonight on Senior Night,” Madsen said. “He had 14 points and 11 rebounds while going 2-for-2 from the 3-point line. Evan Cole is a worker. He is a workhorse and he showed a lot tonight of what he can do. He was a huge part of a run that was a big spark for us at the end of the first half.”
Cole had a dunk and a bomb from downtown as part of an 8-0 UVU run in the final minutes before halftime, allowing the Wolverines to go into the locker room with a 38-27 lead.
The visiting Vaqueros were able to make the one big push and were just close enough to be dangerous the rest of the way, but UVU was able to close out the victory.
The Wolverines had two other players in double figures in addition to Cole as sophomore Fardaws Aimaq had 16 points and 16 rebounds, while Overton tallied 14 points.
UTRGV was paced by 17 points from guard Uche Dibiamaka.
UVU now heads to Arizona to close out the regular season with a pair of games against Grand Canyon with the WAC regular-season title still in reach. The Wolverines are just a half game behind the Antelopes in the league standings.
The two teams are scheduled to play the first of two games in Phoenix at 7 p.m. on Friday.