MISSOULA, Mont., Feb. 14 - Jackson Stevenett scored 15 points but no other Thunderbird had more than eight as North Dakota brought Southern Utah's men's basketball season to an end with a 69-52 defeat in the quarterfinal round of the Big Sky tournament Thursday night.
North Dakota held Southern Utah to 28.8 percent shooting, including 25 percent in the second half when the Thunderbirds made just three of their first 13 shots. Meanwhile, UND - which had five players score in double figures - shot 49 percent from the field, including 65 percent in the second half, when it outscored SUU 41-27.
SUU Coach Nick Robinson said the Thunderbirds' shooting woes in the first half were because of their inability to make shots, but credited North Dakota's defense with the second-half effort.
"In the first half we struggled to finish in the paint," he pointed out. "I think we had six or seven shots that were all within maybe six or seven feet and we weren't able to finish versus contact, so I think that was all about us. In the second half they made adjustments defensively and I think a lot of the second-half shooting was attributable to their defense. "
After UND took a 28-25 lead at halftime it looked like the game might be comparable to last week's match-up between the two, which was close throughout before North Dakota wound up with a 68-61 home win.
North Dakota had different ideas, however. Troy Huff opened the second half by burying a 3-pointer then getting a steal and a dunk to stake UND to a 33-25 advantage. North Dakota built its advantage to 10 before Stevenett hit a pair of free throws and Chris Nsenki knocked down a 3-pointer to bring the Thunderbirds within 37-32.
The turning point in the game followed, however, Robinson said.
SUU rebounded a miss on the UND end and had a chance to pull within three but Jordan Johnson missed a layup for SUU and UND's Brandon Bekke grabbed the rebound. Huff then found Josh Schuler in the corner for an open 3-pointer and a 40-32 UND lead. Cal Hanks then missed on the other end and Aaron Anderson got the ball to Schuler, again in the corner, and Schuler again buried a three against Southern Utah's zone defense.
The second 3-pointer staked UND to a 43-32 edge and it continued to score and hold SUU down, pushing the advantage to 51-32 before Damon Heuir finally hit a 3-pointer for the Thunderbirds with 9:53 to go.
"Schuler hit two big threes in the zone, they made adjustments coming out of halftime that exploited the corner on us," Robinson pointed out. "I probably should have called a time out after the first one to get back into man but I didn't and he was able to hit his second one. That started a run, we weren't able to make some easy buckets, they played pretty good defense and that was the run that hurt us.
"Overall I was pleased with our play this evening," he noted. "Our execution wasn't great, especially in the second half but North Dakota, a very well-balanced team, played better than we did, especially in the second half."
Huff scored 15 points to lead UND, while Mitch Wilmer added 11 and a game-high 14 rebounds.
Heuir and Nsenki each finished with eight points while Jordan Johnson had a team-high eight rebounds for SUU, which finished the season 11-20 after finishing tied for sixth place in its first year in the Big Sky with an 8-12 conference mark.
NOTES: Stevenett finished his career ranked fifth on the SUU career scoring list with 1,273 points and eighth on the career rebounding list with 502 rebounds. He finished the season with 528 points, the 13th-best season in SUU history ... Jayson Cheesman didn't block a shot so he finished the season with 60 rejections, leaving him tied for second on SUU's single-season list (with Sean Allen's 1994-95 effort) and all alone in fifth place on the career list ... Cal Hanks blocked one shot, giving him 35 on the season to tie him with Matt Hodgson (2010-11) in seventh place on the SUU single-season blocks list.