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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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NCAA Tournament: Runnin’ Utes survive late-game scare to beat SFA



On a day filled with upsets, Stephen F. Austin was looking to add its name to the list when it stepped on the court against Utah. And for little while towards the end of the contest, it looked like the Lumberjacks might just pull it off.

After some banked threes and forcing some timely turnovers, SFA pulled within just two points with under a minute to go and the upset-minded crowd in Portland was looking for a Lumberjack win. The tension in the air was thick and this game had all the makings of classic 5-12 upset.

But the Utes were not about to fall victim to the madness, not yet.

Both Delon and Isaiah Wright knocked down clutch free throws, including three from the freshman, in the final 20 seconds of the game to help Utah seal the 57-50 victory and advance to the third round on Saturday.

“Terrific team that we just played,” Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak said following the win. “Of the 68 teams that started the NCAA Tournament, you’d be hard-pressed to find any of those teams that was demanding when it comes to preparation.”

While it was the Wrights that sealed the deal, Jakob Poeltl was the one who dominated the entirety of the game. The Jacks had no answer for the Utes’ seven-footer, who registered a perfect 7-for-7 shooting performance on his way to 18 points and eight rebounds. Most importantly, Poeltl stayed on the floor, keeping himself out of trouble which allowed him to produce the way he did.

“I just tried to be aggressive,” Poeltl said. “Not to try to hack my opponents, pick up dumb fouls. I managed to stay out there.”

Helping Poeltl was Jordan Loveridge, who finished with 12 points, and Wright, who despite shooting just 2-for-7 from the field, dropped 11 of his own.

Heading into this matchup, much was made of the size advantage the Utes had over SFA, and it showed early in this one. The first three Utah buckets came from the hands of either Poeltl or Chris Reyes, as the Utes jumped out to quick lead to start the game.

But SFA wouldn’t go away quietly, retaliating with three buckets of its own to take the 7-6 lead. However, that would be the only lead of the half for the Lumberjacks, as a Dakarai Tucker corner three put the Utes in front. In fact, Tucker hit from a corner from behind the arc on three separate occasions in the slate to finish the first half as Utah’s leading scorer.

Wright didn’t have a huge first half, but it was only a matter of time before he made a highlight play. With 9:54 to go, Wright was dribbling around the top of the key, when Jeremy Olsen came up to set a pick. Wright opted to ignore the pick, turning the other way before driving the lane and slamming it home for an easy two.

Despite that play from Wright, it was a relatively slow first half with the score being just 26-19 when the halftime horn sounded. The Utes did hit half of their shots in the first half, and if it wasn’t for their eight turnovers, the lead could have been more.

“That was our Achilles’ heel tonight, was taking care of the basketball,” Krystkowiak said.

Coming out of the locker rooms, SFA played with aggression, using a 10-0 run that stretched between the halves to cut the lead to just one for Utah. However, the Utes responded by scoring on consecutive possessions, the latter ending in a Poeltl transition bucket that gave Utah a 33-25 lead with 15:38 to go in the game.

It seemed as if Utah would pull away in this one, growing its lead to a dozen points, but just like they had all night, the Jacks were not about to go down without a fight. Thanks to Ty Charles’ third deep ball to this point, SFA kept clawing away at the Utah lead to set up the exciting finish.

Next up the Runnin’ Utes will face Georgetown in the Round of 32 on Saturday. The four-seed Hoyas defeated Eastern Washington in their Second Round matchup on Thursday.

“It’s very much a ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality that I’m trying to instill in our guys,” Krystkowiak said. “So we cannot be complacent or satisfied with what we’ve done up to this point.”

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