Southern Utah’s men’s basketball team begins its final road swing of the season Thursday when the Thunderbirds take on Montana State at 7:00 p.m. in Worthington Arena on the MSU campus in Bozeman, Mont.
Following Thursday’s game the team moves on to face Montana on Saturday night before returning home for the final two home games next week, against North Dakota and Northern Colorado.
The Thunderbirds (1-24/0-16 Big Sky) are coming off an 85-74 home loss to Eastern Washington. Although they are still looking for their first conference win of the season the Thunderbirds continue to battle; Saturday’s loss was just the third by more than 10 points in the last 11 contests.
Montana State (13-14/8-8 Big Sky) has won three of its last five games but is coming off an 86-68 home loss to league-leading Weber State last Saturday.
The only other loss in the last five was an 83-73 setback at Northern Colorado, which currently sits second in the Big Sky standings.
The Game: Southern Utah (1-24/0-16) at Montana State (13-14/8-8), Thursday at 7:05 p.m., Worthington Arena (7,250).
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 are available at www.suutbirds.com.
Video Highlights: Video highlights of the Thunderbirds’ home games are 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: The Bobcats hold a 12-3 edge in the series after sweeping the season series last year. Montana State edged the Thunderbirds in Cedar City last year, 62-61. All three SUU wins have come in the Centrum, including a 68-62 win during the 1996-97 season – the last time the teams met prior to SUU joining the Big Sky – a 79-70 win in triple overtime during the 1992-93 campaign and a 93-91 win in the 1990-91 season, the team’s first win in the series after the Bobcats had come out on top of the first five meetings. Overall, the series stands at 3-3 in games played in Cedar City.
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 12-44 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 0-3 vs. the Bobcats.
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.
Brad Huse (Montana Tech, 1989) is 102-126 in his eighth season at MSU and 286-184 in his 16th season overall as a head coach. Coach Huse is 3-0 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 was ranked 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 59.4 points per game on 43.1 percent shooting (.333 threes) while knocking down 67.9 percent of their free throws. SUU has allowed conference opponents an average of 72.6 points on .474 shooting (.387 threes) and has been out-rebounded by an average of 33.6-27.6 caroms per game. Sophomore wing A.J. Hess leads the team in scoring at 9.5 points per game, with freshman guard Trey Kennedy second at 8.6 ppg while senior forward Jaren Jeffery adds 8.2. Sophomore forward Casey Oliverson leads the team in rebounding with 5.2 caroms per Big Sky game while Jeffery is second on the squad with 4.2 boards and Hess averages 3.9. Kennedy leads the team with 2.4 assists per game while freshman guard John Marshall is second on the squad in assists with 2.3 per game and leads the team with 16 steals. Junior Cal Hanks leads the team with 12 blocks, Jeffery has 10 and senior Jayson Cheesman has nine.
Scouting Montana State:
The Bobcats are 8-5 at home this year and 5-7 on the road, including a 5-4 record in Big Sky home games and a 3-4 mark in conference road contests. The Bobcats are 4-4 in their last eight games, a stretch which began with their 54-52 win in Cedar City on Feb. 1, including a 2-3 mark at home. Since that time they have lost to Montana, Eastern Washington and Weber State and topped Portland State at home, while winning at North Dakota and losing at Northern Colorado.
Senior forward Flavien Davis (6-5, 225) leads the Bobcats in scoring at 12.4 points per game, while sophomore guard Marcus Colbert (5-11, 190) adds 9.7 and senior center Paul Egwuonwu (6-9, 235) chips in 9.4 ppg. Egwuonwu pulls down a team-high 6.7 rebounds and Colbert averages a team-high 3.1 assists per game.
As a team the Bobcats have averaged 69.4 points per game on 44.6 percent shooting (.359 threes) while allowing opponents 70.2 ppg on .466 shooting (.375 threes). Montana State has knocked down 71 percent of its free throws and has been out-rebounded by its opponents by an average of 32.5-to-31.6 caroms per game.
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 four games while guard John Marshall has started 16 games and wing Juwan Major has started seven. 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 15 games.
• Eric Rippetoe came off the bench to score a career-high 17 points vs. Eastern Washington. He hit 3-of-3 3-point attempts in the first half and 4-of-5 overall vs. the Eagles.
• Casey Oliverson had arguably his best week as a Thunderbird last week. The sophomore forward posted his first career double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds against Portland State, then came back with a 16-point, seven-rebound performance against Eastern Washington. The 19 points vs. PSU were a career-high and the 10 boards tied his personal best.
• John Marshall scored a career-high 15 against PSU, then matched that total against EWU. The freshman guard also led the team in assists in both games, dishing out four dimes vs. PSU and five against EWU.
• In two games against Eastern Washington this year A.J. Hess has pulled down 17 rebounds, including a career-high nine at EWU and eight vs. the Eagles in Cedar City. He has apparently enjoyed playing against EWU, as he scored a career-high 24 points in Cheney, Wash., last year, had 17 there this year, and finished with 15 against the Eagles last Saturday.
• 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 vs. PSU 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.