Southern Utah’s men’s basketball team closes out the road portion of its 2013-14 season Saturday when the Thunderbirds take on Montana.

Following Saturday’s game the T-Birds return home to wrap up the season against North Dakota and Northern Colorado.

The Thunderbirds (1-25/0-17 Big Sky) came up one made free throw short of notching their first Big Sky win of the season on Thursday, but an 8-for-17 performance from the line during regulation sent their game against Montana State into overtime, where the Bobcats prevailed, 77-72.

Montana (14-11/9-7 Big Sky) has won six of its last eight, dating back to a 69-61 win in Cedar City on Jan. 30. The Griz are perfect at home during that stretch, with wins over Portland State, Eastern Washington, Weber State and a 62-61 win over Idaho State last Saturday in their last game.

The Game:Southern Utah (1-25/0-17) at Montana (14-11/9-7), Saturday at 7:05 p.m., Dahlberg Arena (7,321), Missoula, Mont.

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 are 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:Montana holds an 8-5 edge in the series, which began with an 83-50 UM win in 1983, and has won the last five meetings between the two schools on the hardwood. The Griz hold a 4-2 edge against the Thunderbirds in games played in Missoula, including the last three. The Thunderbirds’ last win in the series came during the 2000-01 season when they edged the Grizzlies, 89-87, in Missoula.

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 12-45 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 Grizzlies.

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.

Wayne Tinkle (Montana, 2005) is in his eighth season as a head coach, all at Montana. Coach Tinkle will take a record of 155-89 into Thursday’s game. The Griz have a direct connection to the Thunderbirds as Montana assistant coach Kerry Rupp played at SUU from 1975 to 1977 and is eighth on the school’s all-time scoring list. Coach Tinkle is 3-0 vs. SUU.

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 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 60.2 points per game on 43.4 percent shooting (.335 threes) while knocking down 66.5 percent of their free throws. SUU has allowed conference opponents an average of 72.8 points on .472 shooting (.382 threes) and has been out-rebounded by an average of 33.7-27.9 caroms per game. Sophomore wing A.J. Hess leads the team in scoring at 9.8 points per game, with freshman guard Trey Kennedy second at 8.8 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 are tied for second on the squad with 4.1. 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 11 and senior Jayson Cheesman has nine.

Scouting Montana:

The Grizzlies – who have won three of the last four Big Sky tournament championships – are 9-3 overall and 6-2 in Big Sky play at home this season. Their only home losses have come at the hands of San Francisco, Northern Arizona and Northern Colorado and currently are riding a four-game home winning streak. 

Pre-season Big Sky Player of the Year Kareem Jamar (6-5, 207, Sr, G/F) leads the Griz in scoring, rebounding and assists, with 19.5 points,  5.6 boards and 4.1 assists per game. Jamar ranks second in the Big Sky in scoring, fourth in assists and ninth in rebounding. Two more Grizzlies, junior guards Jordan Gregory (6-2, 194) and Keron DeShields (6-2, 177) also have double-figure scoring averages, at 14.0 and 12.4 ppg, respectively. Gregory is also second and fourth on the team in rebounds and assists (3.2 rpg, 1.9 apg) while DeShields is third in rebounding and second in assists (2.4 rpg, 2.6 apg).

As a team the Grizzlies have averaged 72.3 points per game on 47.9 percent shooting (.383 threes) while allowing opponents an average of 71 ppg on .482 shooting (.371 threes). They have converted a Big Sky-best 74.3 percent of their free throws and have been out-rebounded by an average of 32.6-to-27 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.

Thunderbird Notes:

•SUU made more shots and more 3-pointers, shot a better percentage from both the floor and from the 3-point line, and had more assists and more blocks than the Bobcats did Thursday at Montana State. The killers for the T-Birds were 14 turnovers and an 11-for-23 night from the free throw line, including 8-of-17 during regulation.

• Point guard John Marshall pulled down a career-high seven rebounds at MSU, six in the first half. He also had a game-high three assists and didn’t turn the ball over.

Race Parsons tied his career-high with 12 points at MSU.

• The MSU game was SUU’s first overtime contest this season and the ‘Birds’ first since an 86-74 home loss to Montana in last year’s home finale’.