T-Bird Men Host Two, Including League-Leading Wildcats

January 09, 2013
By SUU Strategic Communication
Jaren Jeffery
Jaren Jeffery
Courtesy: SUU Strategic Communications

Southern Utah's men's basketball team hosts a pair of Big Sky Conference games this week, welcoming Weber State - which currently shares first place in the conference with Montana - on Thursday night, and Idaho State - which is coached by former Thunderbird mentor Bill Evans - on Saturday.

SUU (5-8/3-1 Big Sky) is coming off its first conference road trip of the season. SUU split the two games, winning at Northern Arizona (90-77) before falling at Sacramento State (64-59). The 'Birds enjoyed their best shooting night of the season at NAU as the Thunderbirds hit 25-of-44 shots, including 7-of-13 3-pointers in the team's second-highest point output of the season. The team couldn't follow that effort with another hot-shooting night, however, as the percentage dipped to .322 at Sacramento State, its lowest percentage of the season.

Weber State (9-3/4-0 Big Sky) has won five straight games, including four conference games. Just one of the last five, a 73-69 victory in overtime at Portland State, was close. In the other four the Wildcats won at Eastern Washington 73-69, rolled past University of the Southwest 110-45, beat Northern Colorado 79-54, and in their last game they posted a 95-63 home win over North Dakota, last Saturday night. After starting the season 1-3 WSU has gone 8-1.

Idaho State (2-11/1-3 Big Sky) picked up its first Big Sky win last Saturday when the Bengals rolled past Northern Colorado, 86-63. That win snapped a six-game winning streak and gave the Bengals their first win over a Division I team. The Bengals play just one game this week, at SUU.

The Games: Thursday - Weber State (9-3/4-0) at Southern Utah (5-8/2-1), 7:05 p.m. (MST) in the Centrum Arena (5,300). Saturday - Idaho State (2-11/1-3) at Southern Utah, 7:05 p.m. in the Centrum.

The Series: Weber State holds a 22-6 edge in the series with the Thunderbirds, including five straight victories and a 6-4 lead in games played in Cedar City. WSU claimed an 84-66 win in Ogden, Utah, last season and a 77-71 win in the Centrum during the 2010-11 season, the last time the teams met in Cedar City. Southern Utah's last win against the 'Cats was a 75-63 triumph in Cedar City during the 2006-07 season. SUU leads the series with Idaho State 12-6 but the two teams have not met since the 2004-05 season, when current Bengal Coach Bill Evans was at the helm of the SUU program. The two teams went to overtime in both meetings that year, with SUU taking a 71-70 win in the Centrum, then edging the Bengals in Pocatello, 82-79, a few weeks later. SUU is 6-1 vs. the Bengals in Cedar City, with the only loss coming during the 1993-94 season when ISU claimed a 71-69 win.

TV: There will be no live television for either game this week.

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 this week's games the Thunderbirds will hit the road for their longest road trip - at least in terms of days away from campus - of the season. SUU will play at Montana on Jan. 17, then won't play again until Jan. 21 when the T-Birds visit Montana State. Montana will host Montana State on Saturday, Jan. 19.

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 last week. 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 last Saturday afternoon. 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.

The Coaches: 

Head Coach Nick Robinson (Stanford, 2005) is 5-8 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 either opponent.

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

Weber State is coached by Randy Rahe (Buena Vista '82). Coach Rahe, who is in his seventh season at Weber State brings an overall and WSU record of 129-71 into the game. Coach Rahe is 5-1 vs. the Thunderbirds.

Idaho State is coached by Bill Evans (Southern Utah '72). Coach Evans spent 14 seasons as head coach at SUU, where he compiled a record of 209-224 and won more games than any other coach in Thunderbird history. He brings an overall mark of 211-235 into Saturday's game. This is the first time he has coached against 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. Weber State and Idaho State are also members 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 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. The T-Birds played Big Sky home games against North Dakota and Northern Colorado and last week faced Northern Arizona and Sacramento State on the road. SUU has just one non-conference game remaining, a BracketBuster match-up at home on Feb. 23.

Last Time Out: SUU fell behind 12-0 and although the Thunderbirds came back to tie the game 29-29 early in the second half they could never get over the hump and wound up falling out of the undefeated ranks in conference play with a 64-59 loss at Sacramento State. Jackson Stevenett score 24 points and pulled down 12 rebounds to notch his second double-double of the season, and Damon Heuir scored  14 points and dished out a team-high four assists. Jayson Cheesman blocked three shots, giving him 31 on the season, the 10th-highest single-season total in SUU history. On the downside, the team combined to hit just 19-of-59 shots, 32.2 percent, and was out-rebounded for the first time in nine games, 41-to-38. Sacramento State enjoyed a huge advantage at the free throw line, with 55 attempts, but the Hornets hit just 29, while SUU converted 15-of-21 free throw attempts.

T-Birds In The National Ranks: SUU had two players ranked among the NCAA's top-50 heading into the week, and the team ranked in the top-50 in two categories as well. Jackson Stevenett was 30th in free throw percentage at 87.8 while Jayson Cheesman was 33rd in blocks per game with an average of 2.33, prior to the Sac State game. As a team the Thunderbirds were 21st in the country with 5.4 blocks per game and 45th in rebounding margin, at plus-6.0.

T-Birds In The Big Sky: Cheesman leads the Big Sky in blocks per game with 2.4 and Stevenett is second in the league in scoring at 14.9 points per game and Damon Heuir is fifth in scoring at 14.4 ppg. Stevenett is also tied for fourth in free throw percentage at .857 and is seventh in rebounding with 6.3 per game, while Cheesman ranks ninth in rebounding with 5.89 rpg. Stevenett is also tied for seventh in defensive rebounds with 4.4 per game. Wade Collie is sixth in 3-point percentage at .432 and Cal Hanks is 10th 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 (+5.3) and is second in defensive rebounds (26.1 drpg).

The Magic Number Is 58

Jackson Stevenett has scored 924 points in his three-plus seasons at SUU. He needs 58 more to tie Fred House (1999-2001) in 10th place on the school's career scoring list. He also has 394 career rebounds and needs 58 to tie Marc Wilson (1977-79) on the SUU career rebounding list.

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 all but one game since. Sacramento State had a 41-38 edge on the boards.
  • 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.
  • SUU pulled down a season-high 51 rebounds vs. San Diego Christian and followed that with a 43-board performance against San Diego, 42 against North Dakota and 45 vs. Northern Colorado.
  • 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 5.38 blocks per game. The Thunderbirds have rejected 70 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 vs. 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 31 total blocks this season Cheesman is in 10th place on the SUU single-season list. He needs two more to tie Donnie Jackson (2002-03) in ninth place and four to move past Kerry Sherwood (1991-92) and Bryan Olson (183-84) into seventh place.
  • 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 has 15 blocks on the season.
  • SUU blocked five shots at Sacramento State, giving the team five or more blocks in a game eight times this season.

T-Bird Notes:

  • The Thunderbirds had just four players foul out of the nine non-conference games (including two at TCU) but have had five disqualifications in the four Big Sky contests so far, including two at both Northern Arizona and Sac State.
  • 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.
  • 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 at NAU.
  • 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 rout to his BSC-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'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.
  • 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 Weber State: The Wildcats are adjusting very well to the loss of Damian Lillard in the first round of last year's NBA draft, thank you. Weber State lost two of its first three games, at San Jose State in overtime (68-67) and at Utah State (65-55) but has been on a roll ever since, winning eight of nine, with the only setback coming at home against BYU, 78-68. The 'Cats are 3-2 on the road, with wins at Dayton (62-61), Eastern Washington (74-53) and Portland State (73-69 in overtime) since the loss to USU. Three Wildcats carry double-figure scoring averages, led by wing Davion Berry's (6-4, 185, Jr) 13.1 ppg. Berry, who also paces the team in assists with 3.9 per game, is followed by Scott Bamforth (G, 6-2, 190, Sr) at 12.8 ppg and Kyle Tresnak (C, 6-10, 255, Jr) at 11.5. In all, seven players on the WSU roster average over 7.0 points per game. Tresnak is third on the team in rebounding with 5.3 per game, behind Joel Bolomboy (F, 6-9, 215, Fr), who has come off the bench in all 12 games to corral 8.4 caroms per game and block a team-high 19 shots, and Frank Otis (F, 6-6, 220, Sr), who averages 5.9 rpg. As a team the Wildcats have scored at a 78.9 points per game clip on 51.0 percent shooting, including a Big Sky-leading .426 from 3-point range. Bamforth is the biggest threat from downtown, having knocked down 29-of-65 threes (.446), while Jordan Richardson (G, 6-1, 185, Jr), who averages 9.0 ppg, has hit 22-of-41 from long-range (.537). Richardson is second in the conference in 3-point percentage while Bamforth is fifth. The Wildcats have been good on both ends of the floor, limiting opponents to 59.6 points per game on 37.7 percent shooting and just .256 from 3-point range. WSU has hit 66.7 percent of its free throws and out-rebounded opponents by an average of 37.7-to-31.3 caroms per game.

Scouting Idaho State: Like the Thunderbirds the Bengals have been learning a new system under a new coach - former SUU Coach Bill Evans - this year and although their record is 2-11 most of their losses have been very close contests. The Bengals have also been road warriors this season, with 10 of their 13 games to this point coming away from home. In true road games ISU is 0-8, and the Bengals are 0-2 on neutral courts with losses to Wright State and Central Michigan at Utah's Thanksgiving Tournament. Two Bengals, Melvin Morgan and Chris Hansen, carry double-figure scoring averages, with two more over 7.0 ppg. Morgan scores at a 12.7 ppg clip, while Hansen checks in at 10.0 ppg. Thomas Sanchez, who is the top assist man with 3.7 per game and co-leads the team in rebounding with 4.0 boards per game (along with Andre Hatchett and Neveij Walters), averages 9.2 points while scoring at a 9.2 ppg clip. Sherrod Baldwin averages 7.0 ppg after sitting out the first 10 games but appearing in the last three. As a team ISU averages 52.2 points per game on .392 shooting (.291 threes) while allowing opponents 62.0 pgon .440 shooting (.357 threes). The Bengals have converted 67.7 percent of their free throw opportunities and have been out-rebounded by an average of 35.2-to-27.0 boards per game.