Southern Utah's men's basketball team will be playing for a share of third place in the Big Sky standings Monday night when the Thunderbirds take on Montana State in Bozeman, Mont.
The Thunderbirds and Bobcats head into the game tied for fourth place at 3-4 in the conference. The winner will move into a tie with North Dakota in third at 4-4 while the loser will drop into a six-way tie for fifth.
Southern Utah (5-11/3-4 Big Sky) will also be working to avoid its longest losing stretch of the season Monday night. After suffering a foul-plagued 73-67 loss at Montana on Thursday night the Thunderbirds - who opened league play 3-0 - have been on the wrong end of four consecutive decisions, equalling a season-opening four-game skid.
Montana State (6-9/3-4 Big Sky) also lost at Montana in its last game, a 76-71 decision in overtime on Saturday night. The Bobcats have lost two straight after seeing a four-game winning streak come to an end at in an 86-73 setback at North Dakota on Jan. 12. MSU had posted wins over Northwest Indian, Portland State, Eastern Washington and Northern Colorado prior to the loss at UND.
The Game: Southern Utah (5-11/3-4), at Montana State (6-9/3-4), Monday at 7:05 p.m. in Worthington Arena (7,250).
The Series: The two teams have met 11 times in the past but this will be the first match-up between the two since 1997. Southern Utah won the last game between the two teams, a 68-62 victory in Cedar City late in the 1996-97 season, but the Bobcats hold a 9-3 overall edge in the series, including a perfect 7-0 mark at home. MSU won the first game in the series, 89-74, in Bozeman during the 1981-82 season and in the last meeting in Bozeman the Bobcats took an 81-51 victory during the 1995-96 season. Montana State won the first five games in the series before SUU finally broke through with a 93-91 home win during the 1990-91 season.
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 www.power91radio.com. 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 www.bigskytv.org. Audio of all SUU games is available by logging on to the Thunderbird website at www.suutbirds.com or at www.power91radio.com.
Live Stats: Live stats of Southern Utah's home games are available on the SUU website at www.suutbirds.com. 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. On weeks when the team is traveling on Tuesday the interviews will be held on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m.
Next Up: Following Monday's game the team will return home to begin a four-game homestand, its longest of the season. The Thunderbirds host Portland State and Eastern Washington, Jan. 24 and 26, and the following weekend host Sacramento State (Jan. 31) and Northern Arizona (Feb. 2). The Eastern Washington contest is Southern Utah's Hall of Fame game. SUU's next road game will be Feb. 7 at Idaho State.
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.
Heuir Named BSC Player of the Week: SUU's Damon Heuir was named Big Sky Co-Player of the Week, along with Weber State's Scott Bamforth, for his performance the week of Jan. 5. Heuir scored a Big Sky season-high 30 points to lead SUU to its first road win of the season, a 90-77 victory at Northern Arizona. Heuir started a 22-2 first-half run with a 3-pointer and he buried two more threes during the stretch that lifted SUU from a 9-7 deficit to a 29-11 lead. He went on to score 20 of his points in the second half, including a 3-pointer for the first basket of the period to lift SUU to a 45-30 lead and 5-of-6 free throws in the final 1:04 to keep the Lumberjacks at bay. He hit 6-of-11 shots, 4-of-6 3-pointers and 14-of-16 free throws in the game. The 14 made free throws are also the most in the Big Sky this season. In addition to his scoring, he pulled down four rebounds, dished out two assists, picked off two steals and blocked a shot.
Head Coach Nick Robinson (Stanford, 2005) is 5-11 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. This is the first time Robinson has coached against Montana State.
Robinson is assisted by Jared Barrett (Eastern Oregon, 1996), Todd Okeson (Nevada, 2005) and Drew Allen (Southern Utah, 2010).
Brad Huse (Montana Tech, 1989) is 76-99 in his sixth season at MSU and 270-169 in his 14th season overall as a head coach. Coach Huse is 0-0 vs. SUU.
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. Montana State is a charter member of the Big Sky.
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 four conference games at home and two on the road. 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. SUU has just one non-conference game remaining, a BracketBuster match-up at home on Feb. 23.
Last Time Out: Damon Heuir scored 19 points, Jackson Stevenett added 16 and Wade Collie came off the bench to score 10 but the Thunderbirds couldn't overcome 21 turnovers and a 31-5 deficit at the free throw line as Big Sky leader Montana held the Thunderbirds off for a 73-67 home win. SUU out-rebounded the Grizzlies 30-28, hit a season-high 10 3-pointers and held a 12-11 edge in assists. SUU also out-shot .491 to .465, marking the first time the Thunderbirds have lost this season when connecting at a higher rate than their opponent. The shooting percentage included 10-of-19 from 3-point range, the team's second-best percentage from beyond the arc this season. The 'Birds blocked five shots, giving them 11 games this season with five or more but Montana didn't block a shot, marking the first time an opponent has gone without at least one this season. SUU's 21 turnovers marked the sixth time this season it has turned the ball over 20 or more times but it was the first time in the last five games.
T-Birds In The National Ranks: SUU has two players ranked among the NCAA's top-50 after Thursday's games, and the team ranks in the top-50 in one category and in the top-100 in three. Jayson Cheesman is 35th in blocks per game with an average of 2.31, while Jackson Stevenett is 46th in free throw percentage at .870. As a team the Thunderbirds are 224th in the country with 5.4 blocks per game, 67th in rebounding margin (plus-4.7) and 88th in free throw percentage (.725).
T-Birds In The Big Sky:
Cheesman is second in the Big Sky in blocks per game with 2.3 when all games are considered and Stevenett is second in the league in scoring at 15.7 points per game while Damon Heuir is fourth in scoring at 15.0 ppg. Stevenett is also third in free throw percentage at .870 and is sixth in rebounding with 6.2 per game, while Cheesman ranks 10th in rebounding with 5.9 rpg. Wade Collie is sixth in 3-point percentage at .455 and Cal Hanks is eighth in blocks per game with 1.2. The team leads the conference in blocks with 5.4 per game, is second in the BSC in rebounding margin (+4.7), is second in defensive rebounds (26.3 drpg) and third in offensive rebounds (11.7 orpg).
When only conference games are considered Stevenett is second in the Big Sky with 18.6 points per game and Heuir is fifth at 16.1. Heuir is third in 3-pointers per game (2.7) and fifth in free throw percentage (.867) while Stevenett is sixth in free throw percentage at .842. Stevenett is tied for sixth and Cheesman is eighth in rebounding with 7.0 and 6.7 caroms per game, respectively. Cheesman is third in blocks per game (2.0), Cal Hanks is sixth in blocks (1.4) and Collie is sixth in 3-point percentage (.500). The team leads the BSC in 3-point defense (.286), offensive rebounds (12.4 per game) and field goal percentage defense (.383), is second in defensive rebounds (26.6) and free throw percentage (.779), and third in scoring margin (+1.0), blocked shots per game (5.9) and rebounding margin (+3.0).
Moving Up The Ranks:
Jackson Stevenett is currently 12th on SUU's career scoring list, with 981 points in his three-plus seasons at SUU. He needs one point to tie Fred House (1999-2001) in 11th place and 96 to tie Russell Otis (1984-86) in 10th. He also has 411 career rebounds, which is tied with Dave Pinamonti (1967-69) in 18th place on the SUU career list. He needs three to tied Russ Hafen (1979-81) and Chuck Anderson (1971-73) in 16th place and 52 to move into the top-10, where Davor Marcelic is 10th with 463.
Cleaning The Glass:
- The Thunderbirds have won the battle of the boards 11 times this season. They were out-rebounded in their first three games of the season then won the battle of the boards in nine straight contests before Sacramento State had a 41-38 edge on the boards and Weber State held a 46-41 advantage. SUU got back on the glass vs. Idaho State, however, out-rebounding the Bengals 43-34 and edged Montana on the boards 30-28.
- SUU has reeled in 40 or more caroms eight times this season. Last year's team had a total of four 40-rebound games.
- SUU pulled down a season-high 51 rebounds vs. San Diego Christian. The team's high mark vs. a Division I foe was 45, against Northern Colorado.
- SUU averages a Big Sky-leading 5.4 blocks per game. The Thunderbirds have rejected 86 shots this season, 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 were in double-digits against San Diego as well, when they blocked 10 shots.
- 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 37 total blocks this season Cheesman is all alone in sixth place on the SUU single-season list. He had two blocks at Montana to move out of a tie with Matt Hodgson (2010-11) and needs two to tie Kenyatta Clyde's 39 in 1997-98 for fifth place. Hodgson holds the school record with 64 blocks in 2009-10.
- 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 three last week to give him 18 blocks on the season.
- SUU blocked five shots at Montana, giving the team five or more blocks in a game 11 times this season.
- Montana hit just two 3-pointers and attempted just seven, opponent season-lows for SUU. The Grizzlies also went without a blocked shot, marking the first time this season an opponent didn't reject at least one T-Bird try.
- Julian Scott, who missed five games with a foot injury, then played in the NAU, Sac State, Weber State and Idaho State games, was lost for the season with a knee injury suffered in practice January 18.
- The Thunderbirds had just four players foul out of the nine non-conference games (including two at TCU) but have had 12 disqualifications in the seven Big Sky contests so far, including two at both Northern Arizona and Sac State and three against Weber State and at Montana.
- SUU was 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.
- SUU shot .568 from the floor and .538 from 3-point range at NAU - 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 T-Birds attempted a season-high 42 free throws and hit a season-high 33 of them at NAU. En route to his Big Sky-season-high 30 points Damon 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.
- Stevenett has scored a career-high 29 points twice this season, at Gonzaga and again vs. Weber State. Stevenett's 29 points at Gonzaga was tied as the highest single-game point total in the Big Sky this season until 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.
- Stevenett and Heuir are the only two players to lead the Thunderbirds in scoring this season. Each has paced the team eight times.
- Jordan Johnson hit the first 3-pointer of the season and the second of his career at NAU. He buried another against Idaho State and one more at Montana.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Jackson Stevenett was a second-team all-Summit League honoree and he also earned a spot on the five-player Summit League all-tournament team last season.
- 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).
- 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 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.