T-Bird Men Host Sac State, NAU

January 28, 2013
By SUU Strategic Communication

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Cal Hanks had two of his best scoring nights last week
Cal Hanks had two of his best scoring nights last week
Courtesy: SUU Strategic Communications

Southern Utah's men's basketball team opens the second half of Big Sky play this week when they host Sacramento State and Northern Arizona in a pair of games in the Centrum.

The Thunderbirds (7-12/5-5 Big Sky) will be looking to build momentum after winning a pair of home games last weekend, snapping a five-game skid with a 76-63 win over Portland State on Thursday, then posting a 69-55 win over Eastern Washington on Saturday. The Thunderbirds are currently in a three-way tie for fourth place in the Big Sky, along with Sacramento State and North Dakota. The Thunderbirds are now 4-2 at home in BSC play, with wins over PSU and EWU, North Dakota (79-67) and Northern Colorado (51-50) and losses to Weber State (81-74) and Idaho State (54-53). 

Sacramento State (10-8/5-5 Big Sky) also won back-to-back home games last weekend, taking a 67-58 win over North Dakota then a 79-72 verdict against Northern Colorado. The Hornets, who posted a 64-59 win over SUU on Jan. 7, are 3-6 on the road this season, 1-4 in Big Sky play, with the win coming against Eastern Washington.

Northern Arizona (7-13/4-6 Big Sky) will be looking to bounce back after dropping an 81-79 home decision against North Dakota on Saturday. That loss snapped a modest two-game winning streak for the Lumberjacks, who had posted a 60-55 win at Idaho State and a 67-65 home win over Northern Colorado in their previous two games.

The Games: Thursday - Sacramento State (10-8/5-5) at Southern Utah (7-12/5-5) at 7:05 p.m. (MST) in the Centrum Arena. Saturday - Northern Arizona (7-13/4-6) at Southern Utah at 7:05 p.m. (MST) in the Centrum Arena.

The Series: 

Southern Utah holds a 13-7 advantage in the series with Sacramento State, but the Hornets came out on top of the last meeting, 64-59 earlier this season in Sacramento, Calif. SUU took a 76-51 win the last time the teams met in Cedar City, during the 2008-09 season. The Thunderbirds and Hornets competed against each other in basketball in the American West Conference from 1994-1996. SUU went 3-1 against Sac State in the AWC and is 7-2 against the Hornets in Cedar City. The series began with an 85-78 Sac State win in Cedar City back in the 1986-87 season but the Thunderbirds went on to win the next eight match-ups between the two.

NAU holds a 13-9 edge in the series with the Thunderbirds, but SUU picked up a 90-77 win the last time the teams met, in Flagstaff, Ariz., earlier this season. During the 2002-03 season, the last times the teams met prior to this year, the Lumberjacks took a 73-56 win in Cedar City, then completed a season sweep with an 85-68 win in Flagstaff. 

TV: There will be no live television coverage of 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.

Coming Up: After the Thunderbirds close the current four-game homestand this weekend they head back out on the road for four straight. Next week they take on Idaho State (Feb. 7) and Weber State (Feb. 9), and the following week they pay visits to Portland State (Feb. 14) and Eastern Washington (Feb. 16). The next home contest following Saturday's match-up with NAU will be the BracketBuster game on Feb. 23.

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.

The Coaches: 

Head Coach Nick Robinson (Stanford, 2005) is 7-12 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. Robinson is 0-1 vs. Sac State and 1-0 vs. NAU.

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

Sacramento State is coached by Brian Katz (Sacramento State, 1980). Coach Katz,  who is in his fifth season at Sac State and his fifth season overall as a head coach, takes an overall record of 39-93 into Monday's game. Katz is 1-0 vs. SUU.

Northern Arizona is coached by Jack Murphy (Arizona, 2005). Coach Murphy is 7-13 in his first season at NAU and his first season overall as a head coach. Murphy is 0-1 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. Sacramento State and Northern Arizona are both members 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: Wade Collie came off the bench to lead Southern Utah with 18 points and nine rebounds as the Thunderbirds won their second straight game to move back to .500 in Big Sky play with a 69-55 win over Eastern Washington. Collie, who tied his career scoring high and his season rebounding high, missed five of his first seven shots but hit 5-of-8 after that point, including 5-of-7 in the second half when the Thunderbirds overcame a 33-31 halftime deficit. Collie scored four of the team's first seven second-half points (Jayson Cheesman provided the other three on a dunk and a free throw) and with a Jackson Stevenett three the T-Birds outscored the Eagles 10-2 to open the period and never trailed again. The Thunderbirds held EWU to .296 shooting (8-of-27) in the second half and .333 overall (18-of-54) while knocking down 26-of-61 of their own shots (.426), including 15-of-28 (.536) in the second half. Damon Heuir added 17 points while Stevenett finished with 16 and six rebounds. Jordan Johnson, who was starting his fourth straight game, didn't score but he dished out a career-best six assists to lead the team for the second time in three games and pulled down five rebounds while picking off a team-high three steals.  Cal Hanks finished with eight points, one shy of his career-high of nine that he scored two nights earlier against Portland State. Cheesman blocked three shots, giving him 44 for the season, four behind Kenyatta Clyde's 48 in 1998-99, which ranks fourth in the SUU record books, and 19 shy of the SUU single-season record. Stevenett's efforts left him with 1,037 points. He is in 11th place on place on SUU's career scoring list, 40 behind Russell Otis' 1,077 from 1984-86.

T-Birds In The National Ranks: The Thunderbirds have two players ranked in the top-100 in the NCAA through Sunday's games, while the team ranks among the top 100 in three categories. Jayson Cheesman ranks 37th in the nation in blocks per game with an average of 2.32, while Jackson Stevenett is 52nd in free throw percentage at .855. As a team the Thunderbirds are 27th in the country with 5.2 blocks per game and 66th in both rebounding margin (plus 4.5) and free throw percentage (.725).

T-Birds In The Big Sky: 

Cheesman is tied for the Big Sky lead in blocks per game with 2.3 when all games are considered and Stevenett is second in the league in scoring at 16.2 points per game while Damon Heuir is fourth in scoring at 15.6 ppg. Stevenett is also third in free throw percentage at .861 and is ninth in rebounding with 5.9 per game, while Cheesman ranks sixth in rebounding with 6.1 rpg. Wade Collie is 10th in 3-point percentage at .426 and Cal Hanks is seventh in blocks per game with 1.2. The team leads the conference in offensive rebounds (11.7 orpg), and is second in blocks with 5.2 per game, in rebounding margin (plus-4.5) and in defensive rebounds (26.2 drpg).

When only conference games are considered Stevenett is second in the Big Sky with 18.6 points per game and Heuir is fourth at 16.9. Heuir is third in 3-pointers per game (2.4) and fifth in free throw percentage (.848) while Stevenett is eighth in free throw percentage at .822. Cheesman is seventh and Stevenett is ninth in rebounding with 6.8 and 6.3 caroms per game, respectively, with Stevenett fifth in offensive rebounds (2.3 orpg) while Cheesman is fifth in defensive rebounds (5.0). Cheesman is also third in blocks per game (2.1) and Cal Hanks is seventh in blocks (1.3). The team leads the league in offensive rebounds (12.5 pg), in 3-point defense (.297) and in field goal percentage defense (.383), is second in defensive rebounds (26.2 per game), and third in scoring margin (plus-2.6), free throw percentage (.766), blocked shots per game (5.4) and rebounding margin (plus-3.2).

Moving Up The Ranks:

Jackson Stevenett has 1,037 points in his three-plus seasons as a Thunderbird. He is currently 11th on SUU's career scoring list and needs 40 to tie Russell Otis (1984-86) in 10th place. He also has 425 career rebounds, which ranks 15th all time at SUU. He passed former SUU standout and current Montana assistant Kerry Rupp's 422 with his six boards against Eastern Washington. He needs five rebounds to tie Jimmy Faulkner (1993-94, 1996-99) in 14th place and 44 to move into the top-10, where Davor Marcelic (1988-92) is 10th with 463.

Jayson Cheesman has 44 blocked shots this season, which ranks fifth on SUU's single-season list and ninth on the career list. He needs four to tie Kenyatta Clyde in fourth place and 23 to tie Matt Hodgson (2009-10) atop the single-season list. He needs one to move into a tie with Richard Barton (1986-87, 1990-93) in eighth place and two to tie Fred House (1998-2001) in seventh on the career list.

Cleaning The Glass:

  • The Thunderbirds have won the battle of the boards 14 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, and has out-rebounded every subsequent opponent. They out-boarded the Bengals 43-34, edged Montana 30-28, had a 37-33 advantage over Montana State, slipped past Portland State 33-32 and finished with a 44-38 margin against Eastern Washington.
  • SUU has reeled in 40 or more caroms nine 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.

Block Party:

  • SUU averages 5.2 blocks per game, which ranks second in the Big Sky. The Thunderbirds have rejected 99 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 six shots vs. Portland State, giving the team five or more blocks in a game 12 times this season.
  • SUU had four blocks against Eastern Washington, three by Cheesman, but the Eagles had seven, with three players swatting a pair of shots. It was just the second time this season, Green Bay was the other, that the Thunderbirds had more shots blocked than they blocked themselves.

T-Bird Notes:

  • SUU held Eastern Washington to .333 shooting (18-54), giving it back-to-back games in which it held opponents under 37 percent and making 7-of-9 in which it has held the opponent under 42 percent.
  • The Thunderbirds hit 15-of-25 shots in the second half against Portland State, 60.0 percent, it was their second-best second half of the season (behind .630 vs. San Diego Christian) and their third-best half overall (.625 in the first half at Northern Arizona) this season.
  • SUU tied its season-low with 11 turnovers vs. PSU and had the fewest turnovers in the game (the Vikings had 14) for just the third time this season. Two nights later the 'Birds turned it over just 12 times while Eastern Washington also had a dozen turnovers.
  • Jackson Stevenett scored 19 points at Montana to give 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 Richard Barton finished his career with 1,419 points in 1993 (third on SUU's all-time list). Jeff Monaco finished his career in 2001 with 1,568 points (second) while Davis Baker finished his in 2010 with 1,205 (sixth).
  • As a team 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) then had 13 disqualifications in the first eight Big Sky contests, including two at both Northern Arizona and Sac State and three against Weber State and at Montana. The 'Birds went without any foul-outs against both Portland State and Eastern Washington last week, however.
  • 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.
  • Stevenett has scored a career-high 29 points twice this season, at Gonzaga and again vs. Weber State. Stevenett's 29 points at Gonzaga were 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.
  • Until Wade Collie scored a game-high 18 points vs. Eastern Washington, Stevenett and Heuir had been the only two players to lead the Thunderbirds in scoring this season. Both Heuir and Stevenett have paced the team nine times.
  • 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 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.

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.
  • Nick Robinson is the eighth head men's basketball coach in SUU's 50-year history as a four-year institution.
  • 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 Sacramento State: The Hornets will be looking to match their longest winning streak of the season, three games, when they come to Cedar City. Since opening the season with wins over UC Merced, CSU Bakersfield and Utah, they have put together back-to-back wins twice but haven't been able to win a third. They also haven't lost more than two in a row at any time this season. Four Hornets carry double-figure scoring averages, led by John Dickson's (F, 6-6, 200, Sr) 13.6 points per game, which is second in the Big Sky. Mikh McKinney (G, 6-1, 165, So) checks in at 13.2 ppg, while Dylan Garrity (G, 6-2, 175, So) averages 12.0 ppg  and Konner Veteto (C, 6-8, 290, Sr) is at 11.4. Veteto also leads the team with 6.4 rebounds per game, while Dickson averages 6.0 and Joe Eberhard 5.9 caroms per contest. Garrity is the team's top assists man, with 5.3 per game, which leads the Big Sky. As a team the Hornets average 68.4 points per game on .425 shooting (.367 threes) while allowing an average of 66.9 ppg on .420 shooting (.339 threes). Sacramento State has out-rebounded its opponents, 36.4-34.9 per game, and has knocked down 71.7 percent of its free throws.