SALT LAKE CITY — In the final minute of Utah’s 88-69 victory over Ball State Wednesday night, Ute coach Larry Krystkowiak took Delon Wright out of the game so he could get a well-deserved ovation from the Huntsman Center crowd.
Too bad about half of the 8,761 fans had already left the arena to get a head start on Thanksgiving.
Wright, a 6-foot-5 junior college transfer, had one of those “stat sheet stuffer” games that his coach promised before the season that he would have, and he certainly deserved the standing ovation the remaining fans gave him.
Wright had his finest game as a Ute, scoring a career-high 23 points on 9-of-11 shooting and finishing with seven assists, five steals, four rebounds and a blocked shot for good measure.
“Delon gave us a great lift,’’ said Krystkowiak. “Five steals, seven assists. ... He gets his hands on a lot of deflections. He’s a nice player and people are starting to see he’s got a little knack, and can score the ball around the rim. It was also nice to see him hit a couple of 3s. That’s great stuff.’’
Or the Wright stuff.
Ball State coach James Whitford couldn’t say enough good things about Wright after his team fell to 2-3 on the season with the loss.
“Delon Wright is a terrific player,’’ he said. “He was dynamite. He’s a really good player. He’s a difference-maker on the team.’’
Wright, who says he’s never concerned about the number of points he scores, was happy to make a couple of 3-pointers after struggling from outside in previous games.
“I made a couple of shots and that gave me some confidence,’’ he said. “I’ve been working on my shot a lot.’’
Besides Wright, the Utes received good performances from junior Princeton Onwas, sophomores Brandon Taylor and Dakarai Tucker and junior center Dallin Bachynski.
After two straight solid games, Onwas got the first start of his career and finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Taylor came up with 17 points, five assists and two steals.
“Princeton gave us a great lift,’’ said Krystkowiak. “His energy on defensive and on transition was really positive.’’
Tucker came off the bench for the first time, but responded positively with nine points on 4-of-4 shooting, while Bachynski also had nine points and a couple of steals.
Jordan Loveridge, who was coming off a career-high 25 points in his last game, had a rough shooting night, making just 2 of 12 shots for seven points.
“Jordan didn’t have a good shooting night,’’ said Krystkowiak. “He maybe got caught up in some other things on the court and lost some focus.’’
However, Kyrstkowiak was happy that the Utes were still able to secure a 19-point victory with his top scorer having an off night.
Fueled by the defense of Wright, who had four first-half steals, three of which led directly to baskets, the Utes took a 36-25 lead into halftime.
After the Cardinals cut a 15-point second-half deficit to just seven, Wright went to work. First he slammed home a dunk on a fast break and followed it with a 3-pointer from the right angle. Then he drove down the middle and dished off to Bachynski for a dunk. Just like that the Ute lead was up to 12 at 62-50.
The Cardinals stuck around, but the Utes made it look like a rout by outscoring them 11-2 over the final four minutes.
After a scoreless first half, freshman Zavier Turner led Ball State with 15 points, while Jesse Berry had 13, Majok Majok had 12 points and 13 rebounds, and Mark Alstork and Franko House each scored 10 points.
With the win, the Utes improved to 6-0 for the first time since the 1997-98 season.
Utah won't play again for almost a week. The Runnin' Utes will next take the court Tuesday at Boise State in what will be their first road game of the year.
GAME NOTES: The Utes shot 67 percent from the field in the second half (16 of 24) and finished at 56.1 percent for the game. Krystkowiak was unhappy with his team’s free-throw shooting — 18 of 27 for 66.7 percent. ... After trailing at halftime, the Utes won the rebound battle 35-31. ... In one previous meeting between the two schools, the Utes beat the Cardinals 72-57 in 1992 in a first-round NIT game at the Huntsman Center.