Southern Utah's men's basketball team begins its longest home stretch of the season Thursday night when the Thunderbirds host Portland State at 7:05 p.m. in the Centrum. SUU will play four straight at home, including a Saturday match-up with Eastern Washington, before returning to the road on Feb. 7 at Idaho State.
The Thunderbirds (5-12/3-5 Big Sky) will be looking to snap a five-game skid Thursday night. After opening Big Sky play with a 3-0 mark the team has come upon hard times, losing five straight, none by more than eight points. Last week the Thunderbirds suffered a foul-plagued 73-67 loss at Montana on Thursday night and on Monday it was a 76-68 setback at Montana State. The Thunderbirds are 2-2 at home in BSC play, with wins over North Dakota (79-67) and Northern Colorado (51-50) and losses to league co-leader Weber State (81-74) and Idaho State (54-53).
Portland State (5-10/3-5 Big Sky) will be looking to snap a two-game skid as well as for its first Big Sky road win. The Vikings, who will be playing their third straight road game, lost at Northern Colorado (67-50) and North Dakota (85-76) last week. The Vikings conference wins came at home over Idaho State (63-49), Sacramento State (87-69) and Northern Arizona (79-74) while the other losses came at home to Weber State (73-69 in overtime) and at Montana State (62-59) and Montana (62-56).
The Game: Portland State (5-10/3-5) at Southern Utah (5-11/3-4), Thursday at 7:05 p.m. (MST) in the Centrum Arena.
The Series: Although the two teams were both members of the Western Football Conference in the late 1980s and early 1990s, this will be just the second meeting between the two schools in men's basketball, and the first at the NCAA Division I level. The only other meeting between SUU and PSU on the hardwood came early in the 1969-70 season when the Vikings took a 107-93 win over the then-NAIA Thunderbirds in Portland.
TV: There will be no live television for Thursday'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 Thursday's game the Thunderbirds host Eastern Washington on Saturday night, and next weekend they begin the second half of the Big Sky round-robin, hosting 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.
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 5-12 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 Portland State.
Tyler Geving (Central Washington, 1996) is 49-60 in his fourth season at the helm of the Viking program. Coach Geving 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. Portland State is also a 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: Jackson Stevenett scored 19 points to become just the 11th player in Southern Utah basketball history to score 1,000 career points, while Damon Heuir added 20 points and Jayson Cheesman contributed a career-high 13 but the Thunderbirds lost a 76-68 decision at Montana State. The game was a one-point affair with 2:38 to play but the Bobcats outscored the Thunderbirds 9-3 down the stretch to claim the victory. All nine points came from the free throw line as the T-Birds were fouling down the stretch and MSU was taking advantage of the opportunities. Cheesman blocked three shots to move into fifth place on the SUU single-season list with 40. Jordan Johnson got his second straight start then pulled down a career-high seven rebounds and tied his career-best with a team-high five assists. Tyson Koehler got his first start of the season with Jaren Jackson on the bench with the flu. SUU out-rebounded the Bobcats 37-13 and held a 13-11 assists edge but turned the ball over 13 tomes to 11 for MSU.
T-Birds In The National Ranks: SUU has two players ranked among the NCAA's top-50 after Sunday's games, and the team ranks in the top-50 in one category and in the top-100 in three. Jayson Cheesman is 37th in blocks per game with an average of 2.31, while Jackson Stevenett is 44th in free throw percentage at .870. As a team the Thunderbirds are 20th in the country with 5.4 blocks per game, 65th in rebounding margin (plus 4.7) and 69th in free throw percentage (.725).
T-Birds In The Big Sky:
Cheesman leads the Big Sky in blocks per game with 2.4 when all games are considered and Stevenett is second in the league in scoring at 15.9 points per game while Damon Heuir is third in scoring at 15.3 ppg. Stevenett is also fourth in free throw percentage at .861 and is tied for seventh in rebounding with 6.1 per game, while Cheesman ranks 10th in rebounding with 6.0 rpg. Wade Collie is sixth in 3-point percentage at .455 and Cal Hanks is ninth in blocks per game with 1.1. The team is second in the conference in blocks with 5.2 per game, in rebounding margin (+4.6), in defensive rebounds (26.2 drpg) and 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 fourth at 16.6. 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. Cheesman is seventh and Stevenett is eighth in rebounding with 6.9 and 6.8 caroms per game, respectively, with Stevenett seventh in offensive rebounds (2.3 orpg) and 10th in defensive boards (4.5) while Cheesman is sixth in defensive rebounds (5.0). Cheesman is also third in blocks per game (2.1), Cal Hanks is tied for seventh in blocks (1.3) and Collie is tied for sixth in 3-point percentage (.500). The team leads the league in offensive rebounds (12.4 pg), is second in 3-point defense (.300), defensive rebounds (26.4 per game), field goal percentage defense (.392), and free throw percentage (.764), and third in scoring margin (-0.1), blocked shots per game (5.5) and rebounding margin (+3.1).
Moving Up The Ranks:
Jackson Stevenett has exactly 1,000 points in his three-plus seasons as a Thunderbird. He is currently 11th on SUU's career scoring list and needs 77 to tie Russell Otis (1984-86) in 10th. He also has 416 career rebounds, which ranks 16th on the SUU career list. He needs six to tie Kerry Rupp (422, 1974-77) in 15th place and 47 to move into the top-10, where Davor Marcelic is 10th with 463.
Jayson Cheesman has 40 blocked shots this season, which ranks fifth on SUU's single-season list and ninth on the career list. He needs eight to tie Kenyatta Clyde in fourth place and 24 to tie Matt Hodgson (2009-10) atop the single-season list. He needs five to move into a tie with Richard Barton (1986-87, 1990-93) in eighth place and six to tie Fred House (1998-2001 in seventh on the career list.
Cleaning The Glass:
- The Thunderbirds have won the battle of the boards 12 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, edged Montana on the boards 30-28 and had a 37-33 advantage over Montana State.
- 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 5.3 blocks per game, which ranks second in the Big Sky. The Thunderbirds have rejected 89 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 40 total blocks this season Cheesman is all alone in fifth place on the SUU single-season list.
- 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.
- Jackson Stevenett's 19 points at Montana gave him exactly 1,000 for his career. He is just the 11th player in SUU history to break the 1,000 point mark and just the third to cross that threshold since 1993. Jeff Monaco finished his career in 2001 with 1,568 points (second on SUU's all-time list) while Davis Baker finished his in 2010 with 1,205 (sixth on SUU's all-time list).
- 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 only 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. Heuir has led the 'Birds in nine games and Stevenett 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.
Scouting Portland State: The Vikings are 0-8 on the road this season, 0-4 in Big Sky games. The conference losses include a 62-59 setback at Montana State and a 62-55 defeat at Montana as well as last week's 67-50 loss at Northern Colorado and 85-76 defeat at North Dakota. Four Vikings average between 10.5 and 11.4 points per game, led by Renado Parker's 11.4 ppg. Aaron Moore averages 11.3 ppg and a team-high 6.6 rebounds, while Michael Harthun averages 11.2 points and Lateef McMullin checks in at 10.5 ppg with a team-leading 3.7 assists per game. In Conference games Moore averages 14.3 points and 7.4 rebounds, while McMullin checks in with 12.3 points and 4.4 assists, Harthun averages 11.4 points and Parker 11.0 ppg. As a team Portland State averages 67.8 points per game on 45.7 percent shooting (.387 threes) while allowing an average of 70.7 points on .489 shooting (.394 threes). The Vikings have converted 74.4 percent of their free throws and they have been out-rebounded by an average of 31.2-to-29.9 caroms per game.