Men's Hoops Opens Big Sky Play, Hosts North Dakota

December 11, 2012
By SUU Strategic Communication

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Jackson Stevenett
Jackson Stevenett
Courtesy: SUU Strategic Communications

Southern Utah's men's basketball team opens its first season in the Big Sky Conference Monday when the Thunderbirds host fellow first-year BSC member North Dakota at 7:35 p.m. in the Centrum. It is the first official Big Sky game for both teams.

SUU (2-6/0-0 Big Sky) will be looking to bounce back from a 67-53 setback against San Diego on Dec. 4. The Thunderbirds were down by 14 at halftime before rallying to within three but never got over the hump. SUU was coming off its most convincing win of the season, a 95-65 triumph over San Diego Christian in which the Thunderbirds dominated all phases of the game, shooting a season-high .559 from the floor while holding SDCC to .328, pulling down a season-high 51 rebounds (to 27 for the Hawks), dishing out a season-best 18 assists, and tying their season-low with 13 turnovers. 

North Dakota (1-6/0-0 Big Sky) hosts NCAA Division III Presentation College on Thursday night prior to traveling to Southern Utah. North Dakota has played five road games this season and, like the Thunderbirds, will have had just three home games by the time conference play begins on Monday. So far UND is 1-1 at home and 0-5 on the road, splitting the two home games, with an 87-51 win over Crown College and a 73-70 loss to UMKC. North Dakota is coming off a 72-52 loss at North Dakota State on Sunday.

The Game: North Dakota (1-6/0-0, pending the outcome of Thursday's game vs. Presentation College), at SUU (2-6/0-0), 7:35 p.m. (Mountain) in the Centrum Arena (5,300). The game will be the second in a double-header with the SUU women's team, which hosts Houston Baptist at 5:00 p.m.

The Series: Monday's game will be the first between the two programs on the basketball court.

TV: There will be no television coverage of Monday's game.

Radio: All of Southern Utah men's basketball games are broadcast live by KSUU (91.1 FM) as well as on the internet at Art Challis is in his 40th season as the Thunderbirds' basketball play-by-play voice. Dr. Challis - who also serves as the chair of SUU's Department of Communication - is joined on home and selected road broadcasts by former SUU standout and current SUU VP for University Relations Dean O'Driscoll.

On The Internet: Video web-streaming coverage of all of Southern Utah's home games and Big Sky road games will be available on Big Sky TV, at Audio of all SUU games is available by logging on to the Thunderbird website at or at

Live Stats: Live stats of Southern Utah's home games are available on the SUU website at Real-time live stats of SUU's home games are available to working media, contact the athletic media relations office for access information.

Video Highlights: Video highlights of the Thunderbirds' home games will be available to accredited media outlets via SUU's FTP site. For information on obtaining those highlights contact SUU Director of Athletic Media Relations Neil Gardner.

Practice Schedule: The practice schedule calls for the Thunderbirds to work out daily at 3:15 p.m. in the Centrum Arena.

Media Availability: The schedule will remain TBA until the beginning of spring semester, at which time players and coaches will be available Tuesdays at 2:30 p.m.

Next Up: Following Monday's game the Thunderbirds will travel to Denver, Colo., for its final non-conference road game of the season, at the University of Denver on Dec. 21. SUU than takes a break for the Christmas holiday before returning to the court and to Big Sky action against Northern Colorado on Dec. 29 in the Centrum.

Thunderbird Club Luncheons: The Thunderbird Club's weekly no-host luncheon is held Mondays at noon at the Cedar City Crystal Inn. The public is invited to attend the luncheons where Southern Utah's in-season coaches talk about their upcoming contests and review the past week's action.

Captains: This year's captains are seniors Jackson Stevenett and Tyson Koehler.

The Coaches: 

Head Coach Nick Robinson (Stanford, 2005) is 2-6 in his first season at SUU and his first season as a head coach. Coach Robinson came to Southern Utah from LSU, where he spent three seasons on the staff. Prior to his time at LSU Robinson spent a season at William Jewell College and two seasons on the staff at his alma mater, Stanford. During his time as an assistant coach, Robinson helped guide his teams to a combined record of 87-47 and four post-season appearances, including two NCAA, one NIT and one NAIA Division I national tournaments.

Robinson is assisted by Jared Barrett (Eastern Oregon, 1996), Todd Okeson (Nevada, 2005) and Drew Allen (Southern Utah, 2010).

North Dakota is coached by Brian Jones (Northern Iowa, 1994). Jones, who is in his seventh season at the helm of the UND program and his seventh season overall as a head coach, takes a record of 90-103 into Thursday's game vs. Presentation.

Affiliations: Southern Utah is in its first season as a member of the Big Sky Conference. All of SUU's sports except gymnastics and men's golf compete in the Big Sky. Gymnastics is an affiliate member of the WAC while men's golf competes in the American Sky Conference. North Dakota is also in its first season as a member of the Big Sky Conference.

The Schedule: 

The Thunderbirds have played eight non-conference games, three of those games have been at home, three were true road contests, and two were neutral court match-ups, at the World Vision Classic hosted by Nevada.

SUU opened at #21 Gonzaga, then played three games in three days at the World Vision Classic in Reno, Nev., meeting Green Bay, Cal State Fullerton and host Nevada before opening its home schedule Nov. 21 against Carroll College.

SUU also played at TCU and at home against San Diego Christian and San Diego. SUU plays its final pre-season non-conference game at Denver on Dec. 21.

Last Time Out: SUU got behind early and could never climb back out of the hole in suffering a 67-53 home loss to San Diego. The Toreros jumped out to a 22-7 lead and were on top 36-22 at half before SUU went on a 14-3 tear to open the second period and pull within 39-36 with 12:06 to play. After a time out USD scored four straight points and the contest remained a 5-to-7 point affair until the Toreros went on a seven-point run and the Thunderbirds didn't get back within eight in the final four minutes. SUU out-rebounded the Toreros 43-31, held USD to .408 shooting and blocked 10 shots, but shot just .351 itself. San Diego held a 33-15 edge in free throw attempts, converting 20, while the Thunderbirds made 10 of their 15. SUU had 14 assists, its second-highest total of the season.

T-Bird Notes:

  • The Thunderbirds were out-rebounded in their first three games of the season but have won the battle of the boards in the five subsequent games.
  • SUU pulled down a season-high 51 rebounds vs. San Diego Christian and followed that with a 43-board performance against San Diego. Jayson Cheesman led the way against SDCC with nine, while Jackson Stevenett and Jaren Jeffery each pulled down eight rebounds vs. the Hawks. Against USD, Jackson Stevenett and Damon Heuir each had eight rebounds while Cal Hanks came off the bench to pull down a career-best six. SUU has reeled in 40 or more caroms four times this season, matching last year's total of four 40-rebound games.
  • Cheesman didn't take much time to break into the SUU record books. In his first game as a Thunderbird the junior transfer from Salt Lake Community College blocked five shots, which tied the sixth-highest single-game blocks total in SUU history. With three more against San Diego, Cheesman has 22 blocks this season and his 2.8 rejections per game average leads the Big Sky Conference. He needs just eight to move into 10th place in the SUU single-season blocks record book.
  • The Thunderbirds combined to block 10 shots vs. San Diego. It was the team's highest total since rejecting 13 shots against Panhandle State on Dec. 14, 2010 and the highest total in the Big Sky so far this season. Hanks blocked a career-high four shots, Cheesman swatted three and Stevenett, Heuir and Chris Nsenki each rejected one Torero attempt.
  • Stevenett's 29 points at Gonzaga is the highest single-game point total in the Big Sky this season. His 11 field goals made against the Zags is also the highest total in the conference so far this season, while his 11-of-15 shooting night (.733) ranks second-best in the Sky, behind Northern Colorado's Connor Osborne, who hit 8-of-9 shots against Southwest New Mexico.
  • SUU had a season-high six players score in double figures against San Diego Christian. Stevenett led the way with 15, while Heuir and Wade Collie each finished with 13. Cheesman finished with 12 points and both Jaren Jeffery and Jordan Johnson had 10. For Cheesman and Johnson the totals were career-highs while Collie's 13 were a season-high. Johnson was a perfect 5-for-5 from the floor while Collie was 5-of-6 and Hanks, who finished with a then-career-high seven points, was 3-for-3 from the field as SUU finished with a season-best 55.9 field goal percentage.
  • Stevenett has scored 839 points in his three-plus seasons at SUU. He needs 238 to move into 10th place on the school's career scoring list.
  • Cheesman pulled down 13 rebounds at TCU, the third-highest total in the Big Sky this season.
  • SUU leads the Big Sky in rebounding margin at plus-4.7 and is second in defensive rebounds per game (26.4) and blocks per game (4.6).
  • SUU combined for a season-high 18 assists vs. SDCC. Freshman A.J. Hess came off the bench to lead the squad with a career-high five dimes, while Collie had four and all but two Thunderbirds who saw action dished out at least one.

T-Bird Trivia:

  • SUU has nine lettermen, one squad member and one redshirt returning from last season's team that finished 8-10 (14-17 overall) and in sixth place in the Summit League.
  • Five seniors, three juniors, three sophomores and four freshmen make up the 2012-13 Thunderbird squad.
  • Senior Jackson Stevenett was a second-team all-Summit League honoree last season and he also earned a spot on the five-player Summit League all-tournament team.
  • SUU advanced to the Summit League tournament as the number six seed last year, then upset third-seeded Oakland (84-82) in the tournament's first round before falling to eventual tourney champion South Dakota State (63-47) in the semi-finals.
  • Nick Robinson is the eighth head men's basketball coach in SUU's 50-year history as a four-year institution.
  • Nevada's World Vision Classic was the fourth in-season tournament for the Thunderbirds in as many years. Last year SUU competed at San Diego State's Basketball Travelers Classic, in 2010 SUU traveled to the Great Alaska Shootout and in 2009 the team was in Hawai'i for the Rainbow Classic.
  • Southern Utah will play 14 home games this season, including 10 Big Sky Conference contests and one in the BracketBusters tournament. The 10 conference match-ups are the most ever in a season for SUU, a far cry from the four the team had in 1993-94 and 1994-95 when it was a member of the five-team American West Conference and there were just four home conference dates. The last several years SUU has played nine Summit League games per season in the Centrum.
  • SUU's non-conference road games this season included contests at Gonzaga and vs. Nevada at the World Vision Classic, at TCU and at Denver.
  • SUU and the University of North Dakota are in their first seasons in the Big Sky, making it an 11-team conference. The Thunderbirds had been members of the Summit League (nee. Mid-Continent Conference) for the past 15 seasons before joining the BSC. As members of the 10-team Summit League the Thunderbird men's basketball team qualified for the conference's eight-team post-season tournament 14 of 15 seasons, missing only in 2009-10 when they finished ninth.
  • Seven teams qualify for the Big Sky tournament, which will be hosted by the regular-season champion, March 14-16.
  • SUU is in its 50th season as a four-year institution, its 25th at the NCAA Division I level. Prior to joining the NCAA Division I ranks the University spent two seasons at the Division II level and 23 as a member of the NAIA.

Scouting North Dakota: North Dakota, which was picked to finish fourth by the coaches and sixth by the media in the Big Sky pre-season poll, will be looking to break through on the road for the first time this season on Monday. UND opened with an 85-52 loss at Kansas State, then after cruising past Crown College, it played three straight on the road, losing at Northern Iowa (72-47), Hawai'i (71-66) and South Dakota State (71-70). UMKC upset UND at home, 73-70, then last Sunday North Dakota State defended its home court with a 72-52 win over UND. Aaron Anderson is the team's leading scorer at 11.9 points per game and Josh Schuler is second on the team with 10.1 ppg, while Jamal Webb, who is third in the Big Sky with 1.8 steals per game, averages 8.8 points and leads the team with 3.7 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game. (Troy Huff has been sidelined since leading UND with 12 points and five rebounds in the season-opener at Kansas State). North Dakota attempts 35 percent of its shots from beyond the 3-point arc and has knocked down 34.4 percent of them. Lenny Antwi has been the most deadly regular from long-range, knocking down 12-of-25 (.436), while Anderson (11-33) and Schuler (10-30) have both connected at a .333 rate. North Dakota averages 63.4 points per game on .412 overall shooting while opponents have averaged 70.7 points on .420 shooting (.349 threes). North Dakota has converted 68.9 percent of its free throw opportunities and has been out-rebounded by an average of 37.3-to-33.0 caroms per game.