Courtesy: SUU Media Relations
CEDAR CITY, Utah, Dec. 4 – After falling behind early against San Diego on Tuesday night, Southern Utah started the second half on a 17-3 run to bring the game back within three. That is as close as the Thunderbirds would get however as the visiting Toreros held on to win by a final score of 67-53.
Sophomore guard Johnny Dee hit two threes and a pair of free throws to give the visitors their first eight points and help USD open the game with an 8-2 lead. Jackson Stevenett then sank a baseline jumper for his first basket of the game, which was followed by six consecutive Torero points that would push the margin to ten at 14-4.
Cal Hanks rallied the Thunderbirds by scoring three-straight for Southern Utah, but Ken Rancifer answered with a three from the wing to spark a 7-0 run that saw USD go up 22-7 with nine minutes remaining in the first half.
The Thunderbirds continued to chip away at the lead as Hanks made two more baskets over the next five minutes to help bring SUU back. Stevenett would contribute a straightaway three that cut the deficit to seven at 24-17.
San Diego was able to stretch its lead again in the final minutes of the half, taking a 36-22 score into the locker room as Dee beat the buzzer for his third three of the of the game.
“Dee set the tone for the first half by making those first two threes,” explained SUU head coach Nick Robinson. “Cal had a good half for us. He took his time on offense and stayed aggressive.”
Hanks racked up eight points and four rebounds for SUU in the first half, surpassing his previous career highs for a game in just a single period. Dee was the Toreros top-scorer in the early going, recording 13 points in the first twenty minutes.
Damon Heuir started the second half by scoring on back-to-back drives to the basket and A.J. Hess added a lay-up to pull SUU back within ten with the score at 39-29. A corner three for Heuir and a transition bucket from Stevennet then helped Southern Utah open the period on a 17-3 run and bring the score to 39-36.
After a basket and a pair of free throws pushed the San Diego lead back up to seven, Jayson Cheesman block led to a fast break lay-up for Heuir that made the score 45-40 with nine minutes to play.
The Toreros worked their lead back into the double figures as Chris Anderson got inside for a score near the six-minute mark, but the T-Birds came back again after Heuir hit another three to make the count 58-49 with three minutes left on the clock. San Diego was able to hold on in final moments however, eventually coming away with the 67-53 win.
San Diego shot 40.8 percent from the field in the game and was 20-33 from the foul line. Southern Utah posted a mark of 35.1 percent and made 10 free throws on 15 attempts. The Thunderbirds outrebounded the Toreros by a count of 43-31 and blocked 10 shots as a team.
“We rebounded at a very high rate, we executed on defense and gave ourselves a chance to play from behind,” said Robinson. “We have played hard consistently, we just don’t play smart all of the time.”
Heuir led the Thunderbirds in scoring for the fifth time this season, recording 17 points on 6-13 shooting. Stevenett finished with 13 for SUU along with eight rebounds. San Diego got 17 from Dee and another 13 from Chris Anderson.
“It was great to have as many people come as we did, to play in front of a crowd of 3,200,” commented Robinson. “They gave us terrific support.”
Southern Utah will now have time to prepare for its first Big Sky game, a Dec. 17 meeting with North Dakota. The Thunderbirds will host UND in the concluding game of an SUU doubleheader that Monday at 7:30 p.m.
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