Southern Utah’s men’s basketball team wraps up a four-game homestand Saturday night when the Thunderbirds host Eastern Washington. The game is scheduled to tip-off at 7:05 p.m. in the Centrum.
The Thunderbirds (1-23/0-15 Big Sky) are coming off an 86-79 home loss to Portland State. SUU missed an opportunity to pick up its first Big Sky win of the season on Thursday when it had a 76-75 lead over the Vikings with 1:25 to play but saw PSU close with an 11-3 run to dash the Thunderbirds’ hopes.
Eastern Washington (12-13/7-7 Big Sky) has won two straight, an 85-72 win over Sacramento State and an 84-65 triumph over Northern Arizona, with both those victories coming at home. The Eagles will be shooting for their longest Big Sky winning streak and to match their longest winning stretch overall this season on Saturday
The Game: Eastern Washington (12-13/7-7) at Southern Utah (1-23/0-15) Saturday at 7:05 p.m. (MST) in the Centrum Arena (5,300), Cedar City, Utah.
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: Southern Utah holds a 4-3 edge in the series with the Eagles, including a 3-0 mark in Cedar City. The two teams split the home-and-home series last year, with SUU taking a 69-55 win in the first meeting, in Cedar City, and the Eagles coming out on top of an 86-72 verdict in Cheney, Wash., later in the year. EWU made it two in a row with a 90-83 win in Cheney earlier this season.
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 12-43 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 Eagles.
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.
Jim Hayford (Azusa Pacific, 1990) is 27-42 in his third season at Eastern Washington and 286-132 in his 15th season overall as a head coach. Prior to taking over at EWU, Coach Hayford spent two seasons at University of Sioux Falls and 10 at Whitworth, where he led his team to six NCAA Division III tournament appearances. Coach Hayford is 2-1 vs. SUU.
Pre-Conference Schedule: The Thunderbirds’ non-conference schedule was one of the toughest in the nation, as SUU’s strength of schedule 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 58.5 points per game on 42.9 percent shooting (.320 threes) while knocking down 68.7 percent of their free throws. SUU has allowed conference opponents an average of 71.7 points on .474 shooting (.390 threes) and has been out-rebounded by an average of 33.3-27.5 caroms per game. Sophomore wing A.J. Hess and freshman guard Trey Kennedy co-lead the team in scoring with 9.1 points per game apiece while senior forward Jaren Jeffery adds 8.6. Sophomore forward Casey Oliverson leads the team in rebounding with 5.1 caroms per Big Sky game while Jeffery is second on the squad with 4.2 boards and Hess averages 3.6. Kennedy leads the team with 2.5 assists per game while freshman guard John Marshall is second on the squad in assists with 2.1 per game and leads the team with 15 steals. Junior Cal Hanks leads the team with 12 blocks and senior Jayson Cheesman has nine.
Scouting Eastern Washington:
The Eagles are 1-11 on the road this season, including a 1-6 mark in Big Sky play. They opened conference play by coming up short in their first five road games but finally broke through at Montana State, 79-50, on Feb. 6 before falling at Montana, 82-77, in their last Sky road contest.
Sophomore wing Tyler Harvey (6-4, 180), who went off for 35 points in the last game against the Thunderbirds, is one of four Eagles carrying double-figure scoring averages. Harvey leads the Big Sky with 21.6 points per game, including 23.4 in conference games, which also leads the conference. Venky Jois (F, 6-7, 230, So) adds 12.6 ppg, Drew Brandon (G, 6-4, 180, Jr) adds 11.1 ppg and Parker Kelly (G, 6-4, 195, Jr) chips in 10.4. Jois leads the team in rebounding with 7.9 per game and in blocks with 35 (1.4 per game). Brandon leads the Big Sky with 5.6 assists per game.
As a team the Eagles, who knock down a BSC-leading 8.5 3-pointers per game, average 76 points per game on 45 percent shooting (.376 threes) while allowing opponents an average of 75.3 points per game on .448 shooting (.342 threes). Eastern Washington has out-rebounded opponents by a 36.6-to-35.7 margin and has connected on 68.3 percent of its free throws.
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 three games while guard John Marshall has started 15 games and wing Juwan Major has started six. Wing Race Parsons, who has appeared in all but one game, got his first career start against Idaho State while wing McKay Anderson has also had one start – alongside Kennedy, Major and Marshall – at Cal State Northridge. In addition to the freshmen, forward Casey Oliverson, a sophomore in his first season with the Thunderbirds, has started 14 games.
• Casey Oliverson posted his first career double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds against Portland State. The 19 points were a career-high and the 10 boards tied his personal best.
• John Marshall scored a career-high 15 against PSU.
• The Thunderbirds out-shot the Vikings 52.1-to-47.3 and held a 35-27 rebounding edge, their largest rebounding advantage of the season.
• Trey Kennedy came off the bench for just the third time this season and responded by scoring 19 points, his third-highest total of the season, and pulling down a career-high five rebounds.
• SUU has used 13 different starting lineups this season.