first_imgPORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Stephen F. Austin focused on the perimeter, and managed to slow Utah’s 3-point game. The Lumberjacks just couldn’t stop the Utes’ big freshman in the middle.Jakob Poeltl had 18 points and eight rebounds, and fifth-seeded Utah celebrated its return to the NCAA Tournament by holding off Stephen F. Austin for a 57-50 victory on Thursday night.“We picked our poison tonight,” Lumberjacks coach Brad Underwood said.Jordan Loveridge added 12 points for Utah (25-8), which entered with the nation’s seventh-best 3-point percentage at .404. The Utes went 5 for 13 from long range.But the Lumberjacks had never really played against someone as big as Poeltl, a 7-footer from Austria.“It was tough boxing him out,” forward Jacob Parker said. “He has long arms and just his size, if you can get him out from under the goal, he’s pretty much going to get every rebound.”The Utes led by as many as 12 points in the second half, but the Lumberjacks closed to 48-44 on Thomas Walkup’s layup with 3:33 left. Poeltl’s tip-in made it 50-45, and he added two free throws to put Utah up 52-46 with 1:37 left.Ty Charles hit a 3-pointer for Stephen F. Austin (29-5), but Trey Pinkney missed the first of two free throws with 40 seconds to go. Utah’s Delon Wright made a pair on the other end to put Utah up 54-50 with 30 seconds left.Isiah Wright helped close it out at the line for the Utes.“Not only are they big, but they’re disciplined,” said Walkup, who finished with 12 points and nine rebounds. “They were blocking out every play. That bothered us. Just that we didn’t get as many extra opportunities as we would have liked to.”Charles led 12th-seeded Stephen F. Austin with 14 points. The Lumberjacks had won nine straight, earning their tournament berth with an 83-70 victory over Sam Houston State in the Southland Conference final.The Utes received an at-large bid after falling to Oregon in the semifinals of the Pac-12 Conference Tournament.Utah last played in the NCAA Tournament in 2009, and the team had not won a tournament game since 2005. The Utes won the national championship in 1944.The Lumberjacks pulled off an opening-day upset last year as the No. 12 seed, ousting VCU 77-75 in overtime. The game was memorable because of Desmond Haymon’s four-point play as the clock wound down in regulation.Stephen F. Austin lost just one conference game this season, with 15 of its Southland victories coming by double figures. The Lumberjacks led the nation with an average of 17.8 assists per game.But the Utes kept them on their heels nearly the entire night.Utah pulled in front 16-10 on Delon Wright’s dunk midway through the low-scoring first half. Wright is the little brother of Dorell Wright, who plays for the Portland Trail Blazers and calls the Moda Center his home court.Stephen F. Austin went cold and Utah took advantage, extending the margin to 24-15 on Loveridge’s 3-pointer with 4:39 left in the half. Loveridge made 45.1 percent of his 3-pointers this season to lead the Pac-12.The Lumberjacks’ drought lasted a little more than seven minutes, but they finished the half with back-to-back dunks from Tanner Clayton and Jacob Parker to go into the break down 26-19.Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak praised Stephen F. Austin for keeping the Utes out-of-sorts for the whole game.“Those kids play together. It’s like a machine, their offense. Really, really challenging to defend them,” Krystkowiak said. “Then, as you witnessed, defensively they create a lot of different opportunities for themselves with unusual type of pressure, up the line. That was our Achilles’ heel tonight, was taking care of the basketball.”last_img