T-Bird Men Host Bengals

February 14, 2014
By SUU Strategic Communication

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Jaren Jeffery
Jaren Jeffery
Courtesy: SUU Strategic Communications

Southern Utah’s men’s basketball team plays the second game in a four-game homestand Saturday when the Thunderbirds host Idaho State. The game is scheduled to tip-off at 5:05 in the Centrum.

The Thunderbirds (1-21/0-13 Big Sky) are coming off a 75-55 loss at the hands of Big Sky leader Weber State. SUU fell behind early in that game but made a strong comeback early in the second half before fading down the stretch.

Idaho State (8-13/5-7 Big Sky) has posted a 2-5 mark since notching a 60-45 home win over the Thunderbirds back on Jan. 16. The Bengals are 5-2 at home in Big Sky play this season but at 0-5 are still looking for their first conference road win of the 2013-14 season.

The Game:Idaho State (8-13/5-7) at Southern Utah (1-21/0-13) Saturday at 5:05 p.m. (MST) in the Centrum Arena (5,300), Cedar City, Utah.

Practice Schedule:While at home the Thunderbirds work out daily, beginning at 3:00 p.m. with occasional adjustments due to travel and class schedules. Practices are held in the Centrum Arena. All practices are open to the public.

Media Availability:Players and coaches are made available for interviews on Tuesdays at 2:30 p.m., with occasional adjustments because of travel and class schedules.

Radio: All SUU men’s basketball games are broadcast live by Power 91 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 is joined on home and selected road broadcasts by former SUU standout Dean O’Driscoll.

On The Internet:All of Southern Utah’s home games and Big Sky road games will be available on Watch Big Sky, at www.bigskytv.org. Audio of SUU home and road games is available at the Thunderbirds’ website at www.suutbirds.com or at www.power91radio.com.

Live Stats:Live stats of all of SUU’s home games and selected road contests will be available at www.suutbirds.com.

Video Highlights:Video highlights of the Thunderbirds’ home games will be 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.

The Series:After ISU’s win earlier this season, SUU leads the series with Idaho State 13-8, including a 6-2 mark vs. the Bengals in Cedar City. The two teams split the season series last year, with both teams winning close games on the opponent’s home court. ISU edged the Thunderbirds 54-53 in the initial meeting – the first between the two as Big Sky foes – but SUU came back with an 81-79 overtime win over the Bengals in Holt Arena in the rematch.

The Coaches:

SUU Head Coach Nick Robinson (Stanford ‘05), a 2013 finalist for the Joe B. Hall Award which honors the top first-year coach in the nation, has a record of 12-41 in his second season at SUU and his second season overall as a head coach. In his first year at SUU Coach Robinson led the Thunderbirds to a sixth-place finish in the Big Sky Conference, earning a BSC tournament berth in the school’s first season in the league. SUU posted an 11-20 overall record, including an 8-12 mark in Big Sky games last year, when two Thunderbirds, seniors Jackson Stevenett and Damon Heuir, earned all-conference honors.  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 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. Coach Robinson is 1-2 vs. the Bengals.

Robinson is assisted by Todd Okeson (Nevada ‘05), Chad Bell (Nevada ‘06), and Drew Allen (Southern Utah ‘10). Yahosh Bonner (Northern Colorado ‘10) serves as Director of Basketball Operations. Okeson and Allen were with the Thunderbirds last season while Bell and Bonner are in their first seasons with the program.

Idaho State is coached by Bill Evans (SUU ‘71). Coach Evans is 14-37 at ISU and 223-259 overall in his 17th season as a head coach. Coach Evans spent 17 seasons on the bench at SUU, 15 of them as head coach, and he left the school in 2007 as the winningest coach in program history with a 209-223 overall mark. Evans also has three former T-Bird players on his staff in Andy Ward (played from 1992 to 1994), Jay Collins (2001-03) and graduate assistant David Marek (2005-09). Coach Evans is 2-1 vs. Southern Utah.

Captains:This year’s captains are seniors Jayson Cheesman and Jaren Jeffery and junior Chris Nsenki.

Pre-Conference Schedule:The Thunderbirds’ non-conference schedule was one of the toughest in the nation, as SUU’s strength of schedule to this point ranked 46th in Division I and second in the Big Sky after their nine non-conference games. The Thunderbirds’ 2013-14 SOS has been as high as 34th. The non-conference schedule was heavy with road contests as the team scheduled just three official games in the Centrum before the conference opener. The Thunderbirds went 1-2, with a win over Arizona Christian and losses to UC Riverside and UNLV, at home in the pre-season and 0-6 on the road. The road slate included games at No. 23 San Diego State, California, Utah State, San Diego, Portland and Cal State Northridge.

SUU by the Numbers:In Big Sky games the Thunderbirds are averaging 56.4 points per game on 42.3 percent shooting (.325 threes) while knocking down 67.3 percent of their free throws. SUU has allowed conference opponents an average of 70.4 points on .479 shooting (.389 threes) and has been out-rebounded by an average of 33.8-26.3 caroms per game. Sophomore wing A.J. Hess leads the team in scoring at 9.2 ppg while freshman guard Trey Kennedy is second in scoring at 8.8 ppg and leads the team with 2.5 assists per game. Sophomore forward Casey Oliverson leads the team in rebounding with 4.8 caroms per Big Sky game while senior forward Jaren Jeffery – who averages 8.5 ppg – is second on the squad with 4.0 boards and Hess averages 3.4. Freshman guard John Marshall is second on the squad in assists with 1.9 per game and leads the team with 14 steals, an average of 1.1 per game, while junior Cal Hanks leads the team with 10 blocks and senior Jayson Cheesman has nine.

Scouting Idaho State:

The Bengals are 1-9 overall on the road this season and are currently riding an eight-game skid away from home. After winning at San Francisco, 93-90 in overtime in the third game of the season, ISU has not broken through on the road again, although they have played well, with just two of those road defeats coming by double figures.

Three Bengals, including wing Chris Hanson (6-4, 220, Jr), guard Tomas Sanchez (6-3, 185, Sr), guard Andre Hatchett (6-4, 185, Sr) carry double figure scoring averages. Hanson leads the way at 16.7 ppg, while Sanchez adds 15.2 and Hatchett chips in 14.6 ppg. Junior Jeffery Solarin (6-4, 210) leads the team in rebounding with 8.2 per game and Hatchett averages 5.7 while Sanchez dishes out 4.5 assists per game.

The Bengals have averaged 71 ppg overall on 45.3 percent shooting, including a .380 mark from 3-point range. Their opponents have averaged 70.5 points on .458 shooting (.390 threes). Idaho State has out-rebounded its opponents by an average of 35-to-30.9 caroms per game and has knocked down 71.3 percent of its free throw attempts.

Young T-Birds:Southern Utah is one of the youngest teams in America, with just 10 combined seasons of collegiate experience heading into the 2013-14 campaign. SUU has five true freshmen (not including walk-ons) on the roster and three of the five have played in every game. Freshman point guard Trey Kennedy has started all but one game while guard John Marshall has started 13 games and wing Juwan Major has started five. Wing McKay Anderson has had one start – alongside Kennedy, Major and Marshall – at Cal State Northridge. Wing Race Parsons hasn’t had a start but he has appeared in all but one game. In addition to the freshmen, forward Casey Oliverson, a sophomore in his first season with the Thunderbirds, has started 13 games.

Thunderbird Notes:

• John Marshall led SUU with four assists vs. Weber State, his highest total since dishing out five dimes at North Dakota on Jan. 2 and the third-highest total of his career. He had a team season-high eight at Portland, Dec. 1.