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SALT LAKE CITY — The Runnin' Utes improved to 6-0 after dispatching the Mid-American Conference's Ball State, 88-69, Wednesday night at the Jon M. Huntsman Center.
Here are some takeaways from Utah's victory over David Letterman's alma mater:
Great defense leads to easy offense
Utah pushed the lead to double digits early in the game after forcing and capitalizing off multiple Ball State turnovers. The Utes forced eight first-half turnovers, posting a 12-3 advantage on points off turnovers before the break. They finished the contest scoring 18 points off 15 takeaways. Likewise, the Utes dominated in transition, recording a 16-2 advantage on fast break points.
"We got pretty attack-minded," said Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak. "It's what we want to do. We've talked about getting to be the 'Runnin' Utes' and it all starts with our ability to defend and rebound."
The Cardinals had no answer for the playmaking ability of Delon Wright, who punished Ball State's leading scorer, freshman guard Zavier Thomas, on the defensive end. Wright held Turner scoreless in the first half and forced him into six turnovers.
"He gets his hands (in for) a lot of deflections," Krystkowiak said of Wright. "Turner's a small guard and hadn't seen some length like (Wright's)."
Wright finished the game with five steals, and his expertise in transition turned those defensive plays into instant offense for the Utes throughout the game. Wright also posted seven assists, four rebounds and a career-high 23 points.
"I just tried to be aggressive and push the ball," said Wright.
Onwas adds playmaking ability to starting five
Princeton Onwas earned himself a starting spot after phenomenal play off the bench, and did not disappoint in his new role. The junior guard put up a double-double, scoring 13 points and grabbing 10 boards.
"Princeton, again, gave us a great lift," said Krystkowiak. "I inserted him into the starting lineup, and his energy defensively and in transition was really positive."
He showed the ability to slash to the basket and get opponents into foul trouble, though he will need to improve upon his 1-for-5 mark from the free-throw line.
"I just wanted to win," Onwas said about his first start. "I didn't care about my personal goals, I just wanted to win as a team and things just happened for me."
Sophomore Dakarai Tucker also had a solid performance in his new bench role, putting together a nine-point, three-rebound outing.
"He came in and relaxed a little bit, and hit some shots," Krystkowiak said of Tucker. "I think that speaks volumes of him for what would be perceived as being demoted."
Krystkowiak added that part of the reason he made the change was for a more favorable matchup with Ball State and that no starting lineups are set in stone.
The Utes adjusted well
Utah was outrebounded in the first half, 21-19, largely due to the presence of Ball State’s double-double machine down low, Majok Majok. He finished the game with 12 points and 13 rebounds for the Cardinals.
The Utes crashed the boards in the second half, however, ultimately scoring a 35-31 victory on the glass.
"That's a team that rebounds the basketball really well," Krystkowiak said of Ball State. "That was a focal point (in the second half), and we ended up outrebounding them."
The Cardinals knocked down several 3-pointers to keep the game within reach, at one point boasting a 42 percent clip from beyond the arc.
Utah clamped down its perimeter defense, allowing just one successful 3-point attempt down the stretch, and Ball State never got closer than six. The Cardinals finished the night shooting 33.3 percent from 3-point land.
Teammates respond when Loveridge struggles
Jordan Loveridge scored only seven points on 2-of-12 shooting. The sophomore forward made just 1 of 9 during the first half and struggled throughout the game, though he did add seven boards and four assists.
In response, six Utes stepped up and contributed eight or more points, including 17 from sophomore guard Brandon Taylor and nine from junior center Dallin Bachynski.
"Jordan didn't have a great night," Krystkowiak said. "You have to remember, he's young, in his sophomore year. I thought he got caught up with some other things on the court and lost some focus. For us to be as successful as we were when he didn't have a positive night was good."
Up next: Utah heads to Boise for its first road test. The Utes will face off with the 5-0 Broncos Tuesday night at Taco Bell Arena. Tyson Maddy has covered the University of Utah football and men's basketball teams as a contributing writer for KSL.com Sports since 2011. Follow his Utes coverage on twitter @Tyson_Maddy