After the huge win against Weber State in Ogden, Southern Utah University Men’s Basketball has found new life heading into the thick of their conference schedule, but what can they do to keep the momentum rolling?
“Next Man Up”, More than a Mantra.
Injuries have made an appearance much earlier than expected for the T-Birds. The team has announced that forward Dwayne Morgan is out for the rest of the season, and guard Jason Richardson has missed the last three games and could sit out more in the future.
“Next man up” is one of sport’s most treasured cliches, but the T-Birds need to take it to heart. Losing two starters for any amount of time can be crippling to a team’s mojo, but capable substitutes can stop the bleeding.
Since Richardson went out, guards Brandon Better and Harrison Butler have auditioned for the the starting off-ball guard role, and the senior guard Better has started the last two contests for the Thunderbirds. Head coach Todd Simon has the option to start Butler or Better depending on the opposing matchup, but the duo needs to perform.
Morgan’s loss is a huge blow to the team’s depth and defensive prowess. Ivan Madunic and Maizen Fausett will see a lot more court time, but Jacob Calloway will shoulder the majority of the minutes. Calloway is solid. He does a great job spacing the floor, but might get outmuscled on the block.
If the Defense Improves, the T-Birds will Fly.
SUU is currently ranked 94 in the nation in points per game, which is in the top quarter of the nation. The defense is in the lower quarter of the nation, but can improve quickly.
In four Big Sky games, SUU basketball is giving up 87.8 points per game. The offense has been good, but not good enough to cover that spread. If the defense can sure up, SUU can outscore anybody.
Losing Morgan is a defensive gut punch because he was the primary rim protector when Adams rested. Now when Adams sits it’s open season in the lane for the opposition. Adams will need to play more minutes than he ever has or Fausett and Madunic will have to block some shots at the rim.
That being said, the defense is on an upswing. At the end of regulation, Weber State had only scored 70 points. That was mostly due to Andre Adams locking down Wildcat center Zach Braxton and being a huge presence on defense.
Adams can lock down the interior, but the perimeter defense needs to improve. SUU opponents have been able to drive and dish at will at times, and they’re hitting open looks. SUU needs to rotate faster and stick to shooters more consistently.
Keep the Clutch Work Coming
SUU has outscored its opponents 34-17 in the overtime period. The team has been getting to the line in the OT period at a punishing rate. SUU has shot 28 free throws compared to 12 by their opponents in two OT periods.
No matter what you think about James Harden, getting to the line is a skill and can completely swing the outcome of the game. The charity stripe barrage has been led by Cam Oluyitan and Dre Marin. Marin hit two clutch free throws to send the game to OT and went 5-6 against Weber during the extra period.
SUU has been good in clutch moments, but they haven’t always kept games close enough for it to matter. The T-Birds were blown out by 30 in their own gym by Montana State, by 13 to Montana and by 20 at Idaho State to begin conference play. The T-Birds can’t let games get away from them. It feels obvious, but the T-Birds can’t keep heading into halftime down by 15 points.
If the Thunderbirds can get out to better starts, they can play with anyone. They can’t take the first ten minutes of the game to find their rhythm. They need to jump out from the start and set the tone.
What’s different about this T-Bird squad is that they’re talented enough to do it.
Story by: Connor Sanders
Photo by: SUU Athletics Strategic Communication