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NCAA tournament: Utah turns back Stephen F. Austin, 57-50

NCAA tournament: Utah turns back Stephen F. Austin, 57-50

No big upset here. Just a strong performance for Jakob Poeltl and No. 5 seed Utah.

Poeltl had 18 points and eight rebounds, and the Utes opened their first NCAA Tournament appearance in five years by holding off Stephen F. Austin for a 57-50 victory on Thursday night.

The high-scoring Lumberjacks were a trendy pick in brackets across the country, but the Utes used their stout defense to hold the Southland Conference Tournament champions well under their season average of 79.5 points. Ty Charles led 12th-seeded Stephen F. Austin (29-5) with 14 points.

Jordan Loveridge added 12 points for Utah (25-8), which will play the winner of the late South Region game between No. 4 seed Georgetown and 13th-seeded Eastern Washington at Portland's Moda Center.

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.

Charles hit a three-pointer to pull Stephen F. Austin closer, 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.

The Lumberjacks had won nine straight, earning their tournament berth with an 83-70 victory over Sam Houston State in the Southland Conference tournament.

The Utes won 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 a 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 three-pointer with 4:39 left in the half. Loveridge made 45.1% of his three-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.

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