Men's Hoops Looks To Remain Atop Big Sky At Sac State

January 06, 2013
By SUU Strategic Communication

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Damon Heuir scored a Big Sky season-high 30 points at Northern Arizona on Saturday. He hit 14-of-16 free throws, including 10 in the final minutes to preserve the win.
Damon Heuir scored a Big Sky season-high 30 points at Northern Arizona on Saturday. He hit 14-of-16 free throws, including 10 in the final minutes to preserve the win.
Courtesy: SUU Strategic Communications

Southern Utah's men's basketball team wraps up its first Big Sky Conference road trip on Monday when the Thunderbirds take on Sacramento State at 7:05 p.m. (PST) in the Hornets' Nest. SUU will be looking to build on a modest two-game winning streak to remain undefeated in Big Sky play and retain a share of first place.

For the second straight game SUU will be facing one of the Big Sky's top two scorers, as Sac State forward John Dickson averages 15.5 points per game, second only to NAU guard DeWayne Russell who leads the Sky with his 16.6 ppg average after scoring 18 against the Thunderbirds on Saturday.

SUU (5-7/3-0 Big Sky) is coming off its best shooting night of the season as the Thunderbirds hit 25-of-44 shots, including 7-of-13 3-pointers, Saturday in a 90-77 win at Northern Arizona. It was also the team's second-highest point output of the season and its highest against a Division I opponent as well as its first on the road. The win also gave the Thunderbirds back-to-back wins for the first time this season, as they downed Northern Colorado, 51-50, at home last Saturday night. SUU opened the Big Sky schedule with a 79-67 win over North Dakota on Dec. 17.

Sacramento State (6-5/1-2 Big Sky) is coming off a 57-50 loss at Northern Arizona last Thursday night. The Hornets, who had been off since Dec. 21 before the match-up with NAU, suffered their second straight defeat after a 61-60 home decision against Montana prior to the break. Sac State opened conference play with a 62-57 home win over Montana State. SAC is 4-2 at home this season.

The Games: Southern Utah (5-7/2-0) at Sacramento State (6-5/1-2), 7:05 p.m. (PST) in the Hornet's Nest (1,200).

The Series: Southern Utah holds an 13-6 advantage in the series with Sacramento State, including a 76-51 win the last time the teams met, during the 2008-09 season. SUU won the last meeting in Sacramento, 57-54, in the second game of the 2007-08 season. Although this is the first meeting between the two schools in Big Sky play, it will be the fifth conference match-up between the Thunderbirds and Hornets, who competed against each other in basketball in the American West Conference from 1994-1996. SUU went 3-1 against Sac State in the AWC and is 5-4 all-time versus the Hornets in Sacramento with a 7-2 record in Cedar City. The series began with an 85-78 Sac State win in Cedar City back in the 1986-87 season but the Thunderbirds went on to win the next eight match-ups between the two.

TV: There will be no live television for 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 is 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 is 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: Players and coaches will be available Tuesdays at 2:30 p.m. unless travel schedules dictate otherwise.

Next Up: Following Monday's game the Thunderbirds will return home to host Weber State on Jan. 10 and Idaho State on Jan. 12.

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 5-7 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).

Sacramento State is coached by Brian Katz (Sacramento State, 1980). Coach Katz,  who is in his fifth season at Sac State and his fifth season overall as a head coach, takes an overall record of 35-91 into Monday's game.

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. Sacramento State is also a member of the Big Sky Conference.

The Schedule: The Thunderbirds have played nine non-conference games, three at home, four true road contests, and two neutral court match-ups. They have played two conference games at home and this will be the second BSC road game for the 'Birds. SUU opened at #21 Gonzaga, then played three games in three days at the World Vision Classic, meeting Green Bay, Cal State Fullerton and host Nevada before opening its home schedule against Carroll College. SUU also played non-conference games at TCU, at Denver, and at home against San Diego Christian and San Diego. The T-Birds played Big Sky home games on Dec. 17, against North Dakota and Dec. 29 against Northern Colorado before embarking on the current road trip. SUU has just one non-conference game remaining, a BracketBuster match-up at home on Feb. 23.

Last Time Out:  SUU won its first road game of the year and its second straight overall in notching a 90-77 win over Northern Arizona. The Thunderbirds went on a 20-2 run in the first half to turn a 2-point deficit into a 27-11 edge with 10:56 to go, and although NAU got back within six several times the 'Jacks couldn't ever get closer than five the rest of the way. SUU got contributions up and down the lineup in its most impressive offensive outing of the season. Julian Scott, who hadn't played since suffering an injury against Carroll College back on Nov. 21, came off the bench to score 13 points and pull down four rebounds. He was one of four players to score in double figures, along with Damon Heuir's Big Sky season-high 30 points, Jackson Stevenett's 14 and Wade Collie's 10. SUU shot .568 from the floor and .538 from 3-point range, both season-high percentages, and knocked down 78.6 percent of its free throws, including 10-of-12 in the final 1:08 to clinch the win. The team attempted a season-high 42 free throws and hit a season-high 33 of them. Heuir hit a team-high 4-of-6 3-pointers and 14-of-16 free throws. The 14 made free throws are also the most in a single game in the Big Sky this season.

T-Birds In The National Ranks: SUU had two players ranked among the NCAA's top-50 heading into last week, and the team ranked in the top-50 in two categories as well. Jayson Cheesman ranks 26th in blocks per game with an average of 2.55 while Jackson Stevenett is 41st in free throw percentage at .872. As a team the Thunderbirds are 18th in the country with 5.6 blocks per game and are 49th in rebounding margin, at plus-6.5.

T-Birds In The Big Sky: Cheesman leads the Big Sky in blocks per game with 2.5 and Stevenett is third in the league in free throw percentage at .872. Stevenett is also sixth in scoring at 14.1 points per game and 11th in rebounding with 5.80, while Cheesman ranks 10th in rebounding with 5.82 rpg and in defensive rebounds with 4.3. Wade Collie is fifth in 3-point percentage at .429, Cal Hanks is ninth in blocks per game with 1.3 and Damon Heuir is 12th in scoring at 12.9 ppg. The team leads the BSC in rebounding margin (+6.5) and blocks (5.6 bpg) and is second in defensive rebounds (26.6 drpg).

Cleaning The Glass:

  • The Thunderbirds were out-rebounded in their first three games of the season but have won the battle of the boards in the nine subsequent games after edging NAU 34-33.
  • SUU has reeled in 40 or more caroms six times this season, already two more than last year's total of four 40-rebound games, including 45 against Northern Colorado, the second-highest total of the season.
  • SUU pulled down a season-high 51 rebounds vs. San Diego Christian and followed that with a 43-board performance against San Diego and 42 more against North Dakota.
  • Although they out-rebounded Denver the Thunderbirds finished with just 31 caroms against the Pioneers, SUU's lowest total since a season-low 28-board effort against Cal State Fullerton in the third game of the campaign.

Block Party:

  • SUU averages a Big Sky-leading 5.6 blocks per game, which ranked 18th in the NCAA heading into the week. The Thunderbirds have rejected 38 shots in their last five games, including 12 against North Dakota, SUU's highest total since the team combined for 13 rejections against Panhandle State on Dec. 14, 2010 and the highest total in the Big Sky so far this season. The Thunderbirds combined to block 10 shots vs. San Diego.
  • Jayson 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 28 total blocks this season Cheesman needs just two to move into 10th place in the SUU single-season blocks record book.
  • Cal Hanks tied Cheesman in sixth place on that single-game list when he came off the bench to block five shots against North Dakota. Hanks had blocked 11 shots (of his total 14) in the three games prior to the Northern Colorado game, but he went without a rejection against the Bears.
  • SUU tallied five blocks against Northern Colorado.

T-Bird Notes:

  • SUU is the first team to win its first three Big Sky Conference games in its first season of play since Boise State started out 4-0 back in 1970-71.
  • Jackson Stevenett's 29 points at Gonzaga was tied as the highest single-game point total in the Big Sky this season until Damon Heuir scored 30 at NAU. Stevenett's 11 field goals made against the Zags is 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 University of the Southwest.
  • Heuir's 14 made free throws at NAU are the most in a game in the Big Sky this season while his 16 attempts are tied for the most.
  • Jordan Johnson hit the first 3-pointer of the season and the second of his career at NAU.
  • Northern Arizona hit just 3-of-17 3-pointers against the Thunderbirds, 17.6 percent. It was the lowest percentage and tied for the second-fewest long-range baskets by the Lumberjacks this season.
  • SUU posted its first win of the season after trailing at the half, trailing in the last minute and when scoring fewer than 60 points when it came back for the 51-50 win over Northern Colorado. In that game the Thunderbirds also notched their first win when the opponent turned the ball over more (UNC had 18 turnovers to SUU's 14), when the opponent's bench outscored the 'Birds (14-8), in a game decided by seven or fewer points and when the opponent shot a better percentage from the floor (.380-to-.339).
  • SUU had a season-high six players score in double figures against San Diego Christian. Stevenett led the way with 15, while Damon Heuir and Wade Collie each finished with 13. Jayson 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 872 points in his three-plus seasons at SUU. He needs 205 more 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 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 vs. the Hawks, 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 plays 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 the T-Birds 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 Sacramento State: The Hornets - who were tabbed to finish seventh in the BSC by the coaches and eighth by the media in the pre-season polls - have played six home games, the most in the Big Sky, along with Weber State and Montana State. Sac State has fared well at home, with four wins against two losses. The wins came against UC Merced (96-62), Cal State Bakersfield (85-67), Dominican (77-68) and Montana State (62-57), while the losses came at the hands of UC Davis (87-76) and Montana (61-60). Four Hornets carry double-figure scoring averages, led by John Dickson's (F, 6-6, 200, Sr) 15.5 points per game, which is second in the Big Sky. Mikh McKinney (G, 6-1, 165, So) checks in at 12.8 ppg, while Dylan Garrity (G, 6-2, 175, So) averages 12.6 ppg  and Konner Veteto (C, 6-8, 290, Sr) is at 10.5. Veteto also leads the team with 6.6 rebounds per game, while Joe Eberhard averages 6.5 and Dickson 5.5 caroms per contest. Garrity is the team's top assists man, with 5.2 per game, which is second in the BSC. As a team the Hornets score at a 70.7 points per game clip on .415 shooting (.364 threes) while allowing an average of 68.2 ppg on .411 shooting (.310 threes). Sacramento State has been out-rebounded by a narrow margin, 38.0-to-37.0 per game, and has knocked down 72.9 percent of its free throws.