After a low-energy first half, the Utes came out with a greater sense of urgency in the second, and despite only leading by three points at halftime, beat IPFW 96-79 on Saturday in the Huntsman Center.
The Utes had five players who scored in double digits. Jakob Poeltl finished the game with 21 points on 10-of-12 shooting, with six rebounds and six assists. Jordan Loveridge had 18 points and was 4-of-6 from behind the arc. Kyle Kuzma had 16 points, while Lorenzo Bonam had 15, and Brekkott Chapman finished with 10 to provide sparks off of the bench.
The Utes struggled most of the game with free throws, however, as they were only 56.5 percent from the line. Head coach Larry Krystkowiak thinks the poor performance early on was due to a hangover after the BYU game.
“I don’t think it matters who you play after BYU — there’s still going to be a percentage of your brain that’s still trying to recover from that,” Krystkowiak said.
Although Utah scored the first points of the game, IPFW kept even throughout the early part of the first half. The Utes were playing with no energy, and just over five minutes into the game, the Mastodons had a seven-point lead with the score at 18-11. As IPFW was on a 9-0 run, Dakarai Tucker came off the bench and drained a three-pointer to end the scoring drought for Utah.
Loveridge can’t pinpoint any one reason why the team came out flat, but he gives credit to IPFW for coming out strong.
“From the start they looked like they were more hungry than us,” Loveridge said.
After some back-and-forth play, Kuzma knocked down a three-pointer to retake the lead for the Utes. The Mastodons stayed close, but the Utes worked their way to their own five-point lead with under eight minutes to play in the half.
The Utes maintained this lead later into the half as Poeltl was finding success in the paint. However, the guards had a hard time getting the ball to him, having it swatted away multiple times. Both teams started to play with a little more energy in the last two minutes, but after a lackluster first half and one final three-pointer from the Mastodons, Utah only held a 39-36 lead.
Krystkowiak knew this game was not going to be as easy as everyone thought it would be and thinks IPFW will end up winning its conference after its showing Saturday afternoon.
“Name recognition is not off the charts, but for people in basketball circles, they’re right in the middle of the pack,” Krystkowiak said. “They’re playing with a lot of confidence.”
The Mastodons tied the game in the opening minutes of the second half behind a couple of three-pointers, but the Utes found some energy behind three easy baskets to take a six-point lead. Bonam provided a bit of a spark to the Utes, scoring six points to help Utah extend its lead.
The Utes got their first double-digit lead of the day behind a basket from Chapman that he followed up with a free throw. The team started to get the ball to Poeltl more, and although he was 7-of-7 when he missed his first shot, it didn’t make much of a difference because he got the offensive rebound and then made the following attempt.
The team continued to run up the score, and many of the bench players were given time to close out the game.
Since the team is about a quarter of the way through the season, Krystkowiak believes his team is in a good position moving forward.
“Collectively as a team, I’m real pleased with where we are,” Krystkowiak said. “Some guys are in a position that they really need to refocus and sharpen the saw and give us more. Other guys need to keep doing what they’re doing.”