Jakob Poeltl is the leader in the clubhouse when it comes to the NCAA tournament’s breakout star.
The 7-foot Austrian had 18 points, eight boards and five blocks to lead No. 5 Utah to a 57-50 win over a feisty No. 12 Stephen F. Austin team. Poeltl was 7-for-7 from the floor, and while he was a good five inches taller than any Lumberjack on the floor, it’s still nice to see a big man dominate a game the way that he did. Poeltl is a guy that has been on the radar of NBA scouts since early in the season, and while he’s been a bit inconsistent throughout the year, he played some terrific basketball down the stretch. A big tournament could be a blessing in disguise, as Poeltl may have a shot to head to the NBA this spring.
And Utah needed every bit of it.
Delon Wright, the All-American Ute that is a projected first round pick, had 11 points, six boards and three steals, but he also committed six turnovers and shot just 2-for-7 from the floor. Brandon Taylor was 1-for-5 from the floor and committed four turnovers against the SFA press, looking flustered down the stretch. Jordan Loveridge added 12 points.
Last season, Stephen F. Austin played pretty poorly for about 30 minutes before storming back to force overtime and, eventually, beat No. 5 VCU in the opening round of the tournament, and it looked, for a stretch, like this was going to be a repeat of that game. As the Lumberjacks started cutting into the Utah, the Utes started getting rattled. There were silly turnovers, there were rushed, cross court passes, and there was a team making every play they needed — with a bit of help; SFA banked in two three-pointers on Thursday night.
But Poeltl had a key layup, hit a pair of critical free throws and blocked a three in the final seconds to help keep SFA at bay.
One thing to keep an eye on for Utah fans: head coach Larry Krystkowiak went to a short bench in the second half, and down the stretch it looked like the Utes were getting tired. With just a 48 hour turnaround for a Round of 32 game against the winner of No. 4 Georgetown and No. 13 Eastern Washington, those tired legs aren’t going to get much time to rest.