Courtesy: SUU Media Relations
CEDAR CITY, Utah Oct. 29 – Southern Utah opened its season with a 83-62 win over New Mexico Highlands on Monday night. The Thunderbirds scored 26 points off 26 NMHU turnovers and shot 48 percent from the floor to come out on top. Sophomore guard Marquelle Funk led SUU with 18 points while connecting on 4-of-5 shots from behind the arc.
“We give each of our players a role to fill, and for Marquelle it is to knock down open shots,” explained SUU head coach JR Payne. “You can’t ask for much more than what she did tonight, she was phenomenal.”
The T-Birds opened the game on a 13-2 run as Funk knocked down her first two attempts from the outside. The visitors answered by scoring eight of the next ten points to trim the advantage to 15-10. Southern Utah then used a 14-4 run capped by a transition lay-up for Taylor Maynes to double up the Highlanders at 29-14.
The two teams went back-and-forth down the stretch until the Thunderbirds eventually took 44-28 lead into the locker room. Kimie Hawkins paced Southern Utah with 13 points in the opening period while NMHU got eight from senior guard Alyssa Lopez.
The T-Birds shot 44 percent (16-36) from the floor in the early going while holding their opponents to just 24 percent (9-37). New Mexico Highlands held a 25-24 rebounding edge in the first half but SUU recorded 11 points off 14 forced turnovers, including eight steals.
“Our defense was great,” commented Payne. “We have made that a priority since the first week of individuals this year and I think our success tonight started on the defensive end.”
Funk opened the second half with five straight points and Desiree Jackson added on four more to help Southern Utah to nine unanswered and a 53-28 lead. After another pair of consecutive baskets for Funk and a four points off the bench from Sofia Hepworth the Thunderbirds doubled up their opponent’s score once again at 60-30.
The SUU reserves had the chance to get some playing time in the closing minutes, and newcomers Ashleigh Munns, Lori Parkinson and Hepworth all took advantage of the opportunity. The newest T-Birds combined to score 15 points in the second half to help Southern Utah take the game by final margin of 83-62.
“For the first time it feels like we have a true presence at each position on the floor,” stated Payne about her team’s balanced offensive production.
Hawkins scored 17 points on 7-for-8 shooting while Hepworth chipped in another 10 for SUU. Anderson pulled down 10 boards for the T-Birds and Jackson dished out five assists. Lopez finished with 18 and seven for the visiting Highlanders.
Southern Utah trailed New Mexico Highlands 48-43 in rebounding, but held the Highlanders to just 23 field goals on 72 attempts. The Thunderbirds also went 17-22 from the foul line and collected 20 assists as a team.
SUU will wrap up exhibition play this Wednesday against Dixie State. The night will feature special Basketball-O-Ween activities followed by a matchup between the Thunderbirds and Red Storm in the Centrum Arena at 7 p.m.
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
Thu. Feb. 12
vs. Weber State
(L) 48 -50
Thu. Mar. 5
@ Sacramento State
Sat. Mar. 7
@ Portland State