Courtesy: SUU Media Relations
CEDAR CITY, Utah, Feb. 28 – Southern Utah held the advantage for almost 39 minutes before seeing visiting Montana State take its first lead of the night with 1:11 remaining and then holding on for a 62-61 win on Thursday. The result drops the Thunderbirds to 8-9 in conference play, 11-16 overall, and back into a logjam in the middle of the Big Sky standings. The win helps the Bobcats improve to 11-14 on the year and tie SUU with a mark of 8-9 in the BSC.
“Yeah it may have come down to a couple of loose balls or a couple of turnovers, so give them credit on their defensive play, but from our perspective rebounding is one of the best things we have done all year and tonight we were not very good,” stated SUU head coach Nick Robinson. “Right now in the Big Sky defending your home court is extremely important. This loss hurts, everybody’s fighting, everybody is in the mix for the conference tournament and you can’t take anything for granted.”
MSU went just 2-16 from the field to start the game while Jackson Stevenett recorded the first six points for the Thunderbirds, giving SUU an early 6-2 lead. The Bobcats came back to even the score at 10-10 on a basket from Paul Egwuonwu but Chris Nskenki knocked down the first three of the night to put Southern Utah back out in front 13-10 as the game drew near the midpoint of the opening period.
After a pair of inside baskets from Jaren Jeffery, Nsenki added another shot from the outside and A.J. Hess connected on a corner three to stretch the advantage to 28-19 with just over six minutes left in the half. Montana State used an 8-2 run to cut the deficit down to three late in the half, but Stevenett beat the buzzer with a baseline jumper to give SUU a 32-27 lead at the break.
SUU shot 41.7 percent to start the game while holding the Bobcats to just 26.5 percent. MSU held a 23-20 rebounding advantage in the first 20 minutes, 10 of which came on the offensive glass.
The visitors were able to work the lead down to one early on in the second after a layup from Flavien Davis brought the score to 37-36. Jeffrey and Stevenett then dropped in back-to-back scores to push the margin back to five as SUU went up 43-38 with 12:50 remaining.
Xavier Blount turned an offensive board into an MSU layup to cut the deficit back to one with under ten minutes to play. The Bobcats then evened things up at 50-50 on a basket from Egwuonwu. Stevenett knocked down a straightaway three to put SUU back in front and Hess followed up with another score from the outside to give the Thunderbirds a 56-50 advantage.
The Bobcats rallied again behind a pair of threes Christian Moon to level the game at 58-58. Southern Utah used the long ball once again to go ahead as Damon Heuir got open in the corner to give the Thunderbirds a three-point edge. Montana State scored the next four points however and led 62-61 with just over a minute to play.
The SUU defense came up with a big stop and the T-Birds retook possession with 11 seconds left on the clock. The Thunderbirds brought the ball up the court but Antonio Biglow was able to poke it away and give it back to the Bobcats. With just three team fouls in the half, Southern Utah quickly tried to get in the bonus to stop the clock. Before MSU could get to the foul line however, Heuir deflected a pass and came up with a steal with two seconds left. He tried for a look at the basket but was surrounded by defenders and forced to fire a pass out to Nsenki who was unable to get a shot off before the sounding of the horn as Montana State held on for the one-point victory.
Southern Utah shot 45.8 percent from the field, including a season-best 54.5 percent from three. The Thunderbirds lost the battle on the boards 41-31 however and allowed the Bobcats to outscore them 16-5 on second-chance points. Stevenett posted a game-high 19 points while Moon paced the visitors with 17.
“Right from the start of the game, our rebounding effort, our ability to box out, our ability to finish our defense was not very good,” stated SUU head coach Nick Robinson. “They had a lot more energy than we did. They had 16 second-chance points, beat us on the glass by 10, so that’s your ball game.”
SUU is now down to its final three games of the regular season and will play its final home contest this coming Monday. The Thunderbirds host the Big Sky leading Montana Grizzlies in the Centrum Arena at 7:00 p.m. Coverage of the game is available at www.suutbirds.com.
Thu. Mar. 6
vs. North Dakota
(W) 77 -71
Sat. Mar. 1
(L) 54 -82
Thu. Feb. 27
@ Montana State
(L) 72 -77
Sat. Feb. 22
vs. Eastern Washington
(L) 74 -85
Thu. Feb. 20
vs. Portland State
(L) 79 -86
Sat. Feb. 15
vs. Idaho State
(L) 65 -75
Sat. Mar. 8
vs. Northern Colorado
Thu. Mar. 13
Big Sky Tournament