Utah fights off Stephen F. Austin to advance in South region
Stephen F. Austin was a trendy pick to upset No. 5 seed Utah in the South Regional, but despite having a shot to tie in the final minute, the 12th-seeded Lumberjacks never led and lost 57-50 in the Round of 64.
The Utes used a stifling defense that held SFA to 33.3% shooting and a big game from freshman forward Jakob Poeltl, who had 18 points, eight rebounds and five blocks, to win its first NCAA tournament game in six years.
Utah built a 26-19 halftime lead and limited the Lumberjacks' dynamic duo of Jacob Parker and Thomas Walkup, who combine to average nearly 30 points per game, to just six points in the opening 20 minutes.
The Utes stretched their lead to double digits in the second half, but like most of Thursday's games across the country, there was still be plenty of drama.
Walkup came alive in the second half, leading a comeback bid along with Ty Charles as Stephen F. Austin slowly chipped away at Utah's lead. Charles missed a three with 49 seconds to go that would have tied it at 52, but a Trey Pinkney free throw got the Lumberjacks within 52-50 with 42 seconds remaining.
It was then that Utes senior Delon Wright, who was having a surprisingly quiet night offensively and struggled to take care of the ball against the pesky Lumberjacks, drew a foul and drained both free throws to make it 54-50.
Stephen F. Austin's Dallas Cameron went go on to miss a three, and Utah's defense created enough havoc to keep the Lumberjacks from getting the look they needed. Three free throws from Isaiah Wright provided the final margin of vicotry and ensured Utah would move on.
The Lumberjacks played to their strengths on defense, forcing 17 turnovers and actually outrebounding the Utes by three, but shot only 19.2% from the perimeter. So while it was far from a great offensive night for Utah, which shot 47.5% itself, the strength of its defense was simply too much for Stephen F. Austin to overcome.
Parker and Walkup, who have been so good for the Lumberjacks this season, combined for 18 points and seven turnovers, and Walkup ended up fouling out in the final seconds.