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Houston • The sendoff was tough, sure. But the eyes in the Utah locker room were dry.
It wasn't that the loss wasn't devastating: It was. It wasn't that there were no regrets: There were.
But Utah left the NRG Stadium floor with pride thanks to a battle at the finish, closing a 15-point gap to 5 points. And at the front of that were Utah's seniors: Delon Wright and Dallin Bachynski.
It wasn't memorable for Wright's performance, only 4 for 13 from the field with 10 points. But he helped key a little bit of a run, scoring a bucket in the final few seconds to get the game within 5. Bachynski, who helped carry the Utes through a choppy stretch, helped get a trap on Quinn Cook that gave Utah the ball back with 9.9 seconds left.
It wasn't much comfort in a 63-57 loss, but it was something to be proud of especially in the context of Utah's 26-win season.
"I think if we had let them beat us by 20 and not fought back, we'd be really down," Wright said. "We fought. We fought, we had a good year."
Wright struggled as much as any Ute on offense, unable to finish floaters, jumpers and a few other shots of his that he said "usually go in."
Bachynski helped pick up for Wright's absence, however, when the senior guard was benched with three fouls. In the final 4:59 of the first half, Duke only scored 4 points while Bachynski added five. It could've been worse.
Jakob Poeltl called it one of Bachynski's more memorable games.
"He did a really, really great job on offense," Poeltl said. "Especially in that first half, he took advantage of, I want to say [Marshall Plumlee]. He stayed aggressive, went at him, did a great job finishing and got to the line. I think that's what we all expect of him everyday, and he did a great job of that today."
Poeltl undecided on NBA
He knows that fans want an encore, but Utah's 7-foot freshman center isn't sure yet.
Poeltl has consistently told the media he's been pushing a possible early entry into the NBA to the back of his mind. As the season came to an end, Poeltl still felt a bit of distance before he arrives at any conclusion.
"I'll probably let the season get over for the next few weeks, then I can start getting at the process of what I want to do next year," he said. "I'll talk to the people I have to talk to. I'll talk to my parents, my coaches, and everybody, and then I'll make a good decision on what I want to do next year."
Poeltl finished the year averaging 9.1 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game while shooting 68 percent from the field. Several mock drafts and analysts judge him to be a first-round pick, while many Utah fans would love to see Utah's top post player return for more development and success.
If Poeltl was giving away any hints, they were subtle. But he did acknowledge he's built strong attachments to his Utah teammates.
"It is obviously a great factor. I want to stay with those guys," he said. "It's one of the best teams I've ever played at. Not only on the basketball court, as a family as a group. I've never really felt that way about a team before. That will definitely play a big role in the decision too."
While Justise Winslow shredded Utah, one of Duke's biggest pillars was mostly silent.
Jahlil Okafor, a candidate for national player of the year, tied a career-low with 6 points on 3 for 6 shooting. While he did grab eight rebounds, he was mostly an offensive non-factor something almost no Duke opponent can say this season.
The 6-foot-11 center was doubled on many offensive possessions, or Poeltl and Bachynski guarded him one-on-one and made him take a tough shot. Either way, a future NBA lottery pick who had 26 points on San Diego State a week ago looked mortal against Utah's post defense.
"He made some tough shots, and we've got to live with that," Poeltl said. "But I think 6 points for a player with his talent, it's a pretty good job for our defense."
Winslow was a different matter. But he did a lot of his damage from behind the arc, going 3 for 4 from deep. The Utes knew they couldn't stop everything the Blue Devils had to throw, they said.
"We were going to live with his ability to knock down a 3 and it got us," Krystkowiak said. "No doubt about it. He stepped up. Thought we did a terrific job on their two leading scorers, and that's what makes Duke, you know, Duke."
Too many turnovers
It has been a thorn in Utah's side in many of its losses, and it was again Friday: turnovers.
Krystkowiak said 15 turnovers "sealed our fate more than anything." It was a particularly troublesome problem when Wright left the game, and Utah struggled to break Duke's press. Krystkowiak said the team had practiced for the Devil press, even if it didn't appear that way on the court.
Brandon Taylor said the press wasn't as much of a factor as a few throwaway passes. Krystkowiak also talked about Utah's mindset, that at times they seemed a bit airy.
But ultimately, there were no excuses: Utah didn't play like it had prepared.
"I'd love to take as much blame as I can for it, but we certainly prepared for the press and knew it was there," he said.