CEDAR CITY, Utah, Feb. 22 – Eric Rippetoe came off the bench to score a career-high 17 points, leading four Southern Utah players in double figures, but Eastern Washington got 29 from Venky Jois and 26 from Tyler Harvey to hand the Thunderbirds an 85-74 loss in Big Sky play Saturday night.
Southern Utah started slowly, falling behind by as many as 15 points in the first half but came back from a 27-12 deficit with a 15-5 run, capped by a Rippetoe 3-pointer, to pull within 32-27 with 5:04 to go in the half.
The Eagles pushed the lead back to 38-31 late in the half, but A.J. Hess hit a 3-pointer with nine seconds to play in the period to pull the Thunderbirds within 38-34 at the break. Jois had 15 points on 5-of-7 shotting, 5-8 from the line, to lead EWU.
Rippetoe hit 3-of-3 3-pointers in the first half and the Thunderbirds were 4-of-5 from long distance and 12-of-22 overall, 54.5 percent, in the period but the Eagles enjoyed a 17-to-9 advantage at the free throw line, knocking down 13 to SUU’s six.
Southern Utah came out strong in the second half, pulling within 38-36 on a Casey Oliverson tip-in, tying the game at 38 on a pair of A.J. Hess free throws, then taking their first lead, 40-38, on an Oliverson dunk.
Harvey gave the Eagles the lead back with a 3-pointer, however, sparking an 11-0 Eastern run that staked them to a 51-43 advantage.
The Thunderbirds battled back again, pulling within 54-52 on another Hess three at the 11:03 mark, but Jois scored inside and Harvey scored a layup to make it a six point game.
SUU pulled back within 58-55 on two John Marshall free throws and had an opportunity to cut further into the lead but committed turnovers on the next two possession, then missed their next two shots at the basket.
Jois hit one of two free throws to give EWUu a 59-55 advantage, then scored inside after another T-Bird turnover. After two Harvey free throws the Thunderbirds didn’t get back within eight the rest of the way.
“I liked our energy tonight but we weren’t able to sustain it,” SUU Coach Nick Robinson said. “We did a good job on Harvey in the first half but Jois hurt us, then we did a good job on Harvey for about three and a half minutes in the second half. Then he hit that three and got it going.
“We spent a lot of energy and emotion catching up,” he noted. “I’d like to see us have a start at the beginning of the game like we did at the beginning of the second half, and another good start at the beginning of the second half. We’re learning though, we just have to keep working and getting better.”
Oliverson finished with 16 points while Hess had 15 and a team-high eight rebounds and Marshall tied his season-high with 15 points while dishing out five assists.
Southern Utah dipped to 1-24 overall and 0-16 in Big Sky play while EWU improved to 13-13 overall, 8-7 in conference play.