Southern Utah’s men’s basketball team plays the penultimate game of its 2013-14 season Thursday night when the Thunderbirds host North Dakota at 7:05 p.m. in the Centrum Arena.
The Thunderbirds (1-26/0-18 Big Sky) will look to close out the season on a winning note this week, with Thursday’s game against UND and a Saturday contest vs. Northern Colorado. Although SUU is out of the hunt for a Big Sky playoff berth, the T-Birds are still in a position to have an effect on the tournament, as both UND and UNC are jockeying for position in the BSC race.
North Dakota (15-14/12-7 Big Sky) wrapped up a spot in the Big Sky tournament Tuesday night with a 94-90 home win over Northern Colorado. UND, which posted a 65-61 win over the Thunderbirds in the conference opener for both teams on Jan. 2, will be looking to go into the tournament on a hot streak as it has won four straight heading into Thursday’s game. A win would guarantee North Dakota no worse than a three seed in the tournament.
The Game: North Dakota (15-14/12-7) at Southern Utah (1-26/0-18), Thursday at 7:05 p.m. in the Centrum Arena (5,300).
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: North Dakota holds a 3-1 edge in the series between the two teams, including a 65-61 home win in Grand Forks, N.D., in both teams’ 2013-14 Big Sky opener on Jan 2. The teams split two regular-season games last year, with SUU coming out on top of the first-ever meeting between the two, 79-67 in Cedar City, and UND avenging that defeat with a 68-61 win in Grand Forks in the regular-season finale. The teams also met in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky tournament last year, where UND came away with a 69-52 victory.
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 12-46 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 1-3 vs. UND.
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.
UND Coach Brian Jones (Northern Iowa, ‘94) is 116-128 in his eighth season at North Dakota and his eighth season as a head coach. Coach Jones is 3-1 vs. the Thunderbirds.
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 59.8 points per game on 42.7 percent shooting (.337 threes) while knocking down 66.5 percent of their free throws. SUU has allowed conference opponents an average of 73.3 points on .477 shooting (.390 threes) and has been out-rebounded by an average of 33.8-to-28.1 caroms per game. Sophomore wing A.J. Hess leads the team in scoring at 10 points per game, with freshman guard Trey Kennedy second at 8.9 ppg while senior forward Jaren Jeffery adds 7.9 ppg and sophomore forward Casey Oliverson chips in 7.8. Oliverson leads the team in rebounding with 5.3 caroms per Big Sky game while Hess pulls down 4.3 and 4.1 rpg. Kennedy leads the team with 2.3 assists per game while freshman guard John Marshall is second on the squad in assists with 2.2 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 North Dakota:
North Dakota is 4-5 on the road in conference play this season, with wins over Montana State, Eastern Washington, Idaho State and Northern Arizona.
Senior wing Troy Huff (6-5, 175) leads the team with 19.9 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, while senior forward Jaron Nash (6-8, 190) is second in both categories with 10.8 points and 4.2 boards per game. Senior guard Aaron Anderson (5-10, 150) averages 10.6 points and 2.8 assists per game while another senior, Jamal Webb (6-1, 190), leads the team with 3.4 assists per contest while scoring at a 7.3 ppg clip and pulling down an average of 3.5 rebounds.
As a team North Dakota has averaged 74.3 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting (.340 threes) while giving up an average of 73.9 ppg on .488 shooting (.361 threes). UND has knocked down 67.6 percent of its free throws and has been out-rebounded by an average of 33.7-to-31.2 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 21 games while guard John Marshall has started 18 and wing Juwan Major has started nine; all three have appeared in every game. Wing Race Parsons, who has appeared in all but one game, got a start against Idaho State while wing McKay Anderson, who has appeared in 22 games, 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 played in all 27 games with 17 starts.
• A.J. Hess led SUU with eight rebounds at Montana. The sophomore wing has had exactly eight boards in each of the last three games. He also had a team-high 13 points vs. the Grizzlies.
• SUU didn’t arrive in Missoula for the game against the Griz until Saturday afternoon. A heavy snowstorm and blowing snow conditions closed sections of I-90 on Friday, keeping the Thunderbirds in Bozeman (where they played Thursday night) until Saturday morning. No one directly associated with the team blamed the travel for the loss, however.
• The T-Birds combined for a season-low three assists at Montana.
• 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 at Montana State. Fourteen turnovers and an 11-for-23 night from the free throw line, including 8-of-17 during regulation, were the T-Birds’ undoing.
• 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’.
• SUU has used 13 different starting lineups this season.