It wasn’t quite Bill Walton’s 21-of-22 performance in 1973, but Utah forward Jakob Poeltl had quite a night Thursday. He shot a perfect 7-of-7 from the floor to finish with 18 points, eight rebounds and five blocks in Utah’s 57-50 win over No. 12 Stephen F. Austin.
“I really played with energy today,” Poeltl said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “It was the first NCAA Tournament of my life, so I just (decided) to leave everything on the court. That’s what happened today.”
Utah led 26-19 at halftime and played to a 31-31 standstill thereafter. The Lumberjacks shot just 17-of-51 from the floor (33.3 percent), including 5-of-26 from three-point range (19.2 percent). Still, Poeltl thought Stephen F. Austin was a tough team to guard because of their ability to stretch the floor.
“They’re a really, really good team,” Poeltl said. “Their style of play is very unusual, so it’s tough to play them. They have a lot of shooting bigs. Their defense, they have a lot of pressure. They turn you over. So it wasn’t a typical game. And then in addition to that, it was the first NCAA Tournament game for every single player (on our team), so it was really hard to play this game. But we managed to come out on top, and I’m really happy about that.”
Statistically, both teams were fairly even in rebounds, assists and steals, but defense down low was the difference. Utah had seven blocks, including five by Poeltl, who is 7-0, 235 pounds.
“I honestly don’t know (how I got so many),” said the freshman from Vienna, Austria. “I just try to go for it every time the opportunity presented itself. That’s been my goal all year long: be the rim protector. And today I really got a couple opportunities, and I went for it. I was not in foul trouble, so I could go for it. I just managed to get a couple of blocks.”
Utah placed three starters in double figures, including junior forward Jordan Loveridge, who had 12 points and five rebounds, and senior guard Delon wright, who had 11 points and six rebounds. Dakari Tucker, meanwhile, had nine points off the bench, drilling three three-pointers.
“That’s just great about our team,” Poeltl said. “It doesn’t really matter who scores and everybody can score on our team. We just have that kind of depth and our offense allows us to get everybody involved. Then it’s just a matter of who’s having a good day, who’s making the shots. Then we can adjust the offense like that. We don’t have that one guy who always scores 20 points for us. We’re just a versatile and deep team.”
No. 5 Utah (25-8, 13-5) will face No. 4 Georgetown (22-10, 12-6) in the Round of 32 this Saturday at 7:45 p.m. ET. The Hoyas beat No. 13 Eastern Washington, 84-74, on Thursday, with junior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera scoring a team-high 25 points.