Courtesy: SUU Media Relations
CEDAR CITY, Utah Dec. 1 – Southern Utah took a 14-point halftime over New Mexico State in its second home game of the season Saturday night, but then saw the visiting Aggies rally late to pull out a 70-68 win in the game’s final seconds. SUU led the game from two minutes in until the final minute, but the Aggies battled back for the improbable win to improve their record 5-2 while dropping the T-Birds to 2-4.
“I thought it was our best game of the year, it was an incredible team game,” commented SUU head coach JR Payne. “I don’t think I called a very good game, and I think that cost us down the stretch.”
Southern Utah was the first to get on the board first after Kimie Hawkins earned a trip to the line with a strong drive and knocked down both free throws for the first points of the game. Sofia Hepworth then took a steal the length of the court and was fouled on her way up for another trip to the line and two more points to put Southern Utah up 4-0.
The Aggies bounced back with back-to-back threes, but SUU answered with 11 straight, including a break away lay-in from Tayler Anderson and a baseline three by Desiree Jackson, to go up 15-6 just five minutes in.
The T-Birds continued to add to their lead and eventually doubled up NMSU at 26-13 near the nine-minute mark as Marquelle Funk connected on a jumper from the outside.
New Mexico State worked to trim the deficit to 30-23, but Jackson and Hailey Mandelko dropped in two more threes as SUU ran off eight unanswered to push the margin 38-23. The Thunderbirds went on to take a 43-29 lead into the break after Sofia Hepworth hit a pull-up jumper in the closing seconds of the half.
Southern Utah shot 51.7 from the field in the early going, its best mark in any half of the season. Moreland led the way with eight points, while four other Thunderbird put up six in the first 20 minutes. Aggie guard Stefanie Gilbreath hit two threes to lead the visitors with nine points during the opening period.
The Aggies started the second half with two quick baskets and a pair of free throws, but Mandelko found her range from the oustside again, hitting a three from the wing to push the lead back into the double-digits at 46-36.
New Mexico State continued to battle back however, hitting five of its first six shots to open the half on a 17-5 run and pull within two with the score at 48-46. SUU was then able to push its lead back up to seven after Moreland worked inside for a lay-in that made the count 55-48.
The Aggies refused to go away however, and pulled back within a single basket as Gilbreath scored inside to make it 64-62 with four minutes remaining. The score remained tight down the stretch as the two sides traded baskets while the Thunderbirds held onto for 68-66 edge as the clock wound down to the final 60 seconds of play.
NMSU guard Danesia Williamson then got to free throw line to tie the score at 68-68 with 21 seconds remaining. SUU also earned a trip to the line on its ensuing possession but both attempts from Funk rimmed out and the Aggies took the ball back with 11 seconds left. Williamson took the ball for the visitors again and drove the length of the court before laying a shot off the glass to give New Mexico State the lead.
The Thunderbirds got the ball on the baseline with 2.1 seconds on the clock, but their down-court pass went out of bounds giving possession back to NMSU. SUU fouled on the inbounds pass and took the ball back after two missed free throws, but Anderson’s last second heave came up well short of the basket and New Mexico State escaped with the 70-68 come-from-behind victory.
Southern Utah finished the game with a 42.4 field goal percentage and went 7-14 from behind the arc while outrebounding the Aggies by a count of 43-33, but also turned the ball over 22 times and went just 11-19 from the foul line while New Mexico State shot 43.4 percent in the second half and committed just three turnovers down the stretch to erase its 15-point halftime deficit.
Moreland turned in her second double-double of the season for Southern Utah, racking up game-highs with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Mandelko added another 11, with three 3-pointers and Hepworth chipped in 10 more. The Aggies also had three players score in the double-figures, led by Gibreath and Rozendaal who each put up 15 along with Williamson who finished with 11.
“I think we did everything that we did was pretty good tonight, but we didn’t execute down the stretch and I take responsibility for that, I’m just devastated,” said Payne.
The Thunderbirds will now look to regroup as they prepare for two-game road trip starting with a matchup against in-state rival Utah Valley next Thursday at 7 p.m. (MT)
Thu. Mar. 5
@ Sacramento State
(L) 73 -107
Sat. Feb. 28
vs. North Dakota
(W) 73 -66
Thu. Feb. 26
vs. Northern Colorado
(L) 66 -88
Sat. Feb. 21
(L) 49 -76
Thu. Feb. 19
@ Eastern Washington
(L) 67 -88
Sat. Feb. 14
vs. Idaho State
(W) 76 -75
Sat. Mar. 7
@ Portland State