Southern Utah University men’s basketball took down Idaho State University 80-75 at the America First Event Center on Saturday.
The T-Birds looked like a different team than the outfit that lost 75-65 to in-state rivals Weber State on Thursday. After taking the lead with six minutes left in the first half, the T-Birds never let the lead go.
“This group wants to win so bad,” Simon said. “They put a lot of pressure on themselves on Thursday. We didn’t get too high or too low after that game. We knew we had to regroup and stay solid, and that’s what the result was today.”
Senior Cameron Oluyitan set the tone for SUU, finishing with 23 points on 4-7 shooting from 3-point range. Sophomore guard Harrison Butler, who was forced to play major minutes in the post due to Thunderbird foul trouble, finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
“[Butler] did a phenomenal job defensively,” Simon said. “He gets his hands on balls, and he’s strong. He was fronting [post players] liked we asked him to do. He really stepped up.”
The Thunderbirds fell behind early, and looked to be in a tough spot after Andre Adams and Dwayne Morgan sat due to foul trouble. Bengal forward Malik Porter scored 11 points in the first four minutes of the game, and the T-Birds struggled to defend the paint.
As the half wore on, the offense came alive. The T-Birds fought back and had a 34-31 lead before closing the half on an 8-0 run that put them up 42-31 at the break.
The momentum didn’t stop, and Simon’s squad built the lead out to 18 with seven minutes remaining. Porter finished the game with 21 points and a perfect 8-8 mark from the field, but his final field goal came with 17:46 remaining in the half. Butler and co. gave him no space to work with inside.
Idaho State refused to roll over. The Bengals uncorked a 13-2 run over the next four minutes and cut the lead to six after a Tarik Cool jump shot with 1:57 left to play.
Cool drained a deep 3-pointer on the next possession, pulling his team within one possession, 78-75.
Oluyitan was fouled on a 3-pointer of his own the next possession and sunk all three free-throws. Cool kept things close with two more free throws and another deep 3-pointer, but Jakolby Long sealed the game with two free-throws on the final possession.
“When they’re hitting shots from 27, 28 feet out, you just have to tip your hat when they go in,” Simon said. “We kind of relaxed a little bit, threw away a couple of balls, but it was good.”
With the win, SUU moves to 13-8 on the season and 6-4 in Big Sky conference play. They continue their four-game homestand Thursday, Feb. 6 against the University of Northern Colorado (14-7, 7-3).
Story by: Connor Sanders
Photo by SUU Athletics