Dre Marin has been the leader for Southern Utah University men’s basketball for a while now.
Often, the Thunderbirds will turn to Marin late when the game is on the line. Although Marin is mostly known as a floor general that makes others around him better, this time he took matters into his own hands.
Marin led the T-Birds with 19 points, including a 4 of 9 performance from three point range, as his team defeated the Idaho Vandals 75-69 in the first round of the 2020 Big Sky Tournament.
“Idaho was very prepared and did a great job with their gameplan,” said T-Bird head coach Todd Simon. “They played extremely hard. Trevon Allen is such a good, good basketball player. But I was proud of our guys. We kept answering the bell. We didn’t get frustrated and down the stretch we made some big plays.”
With a disappointing ending stretch to the regular season, the T-Birds took down the Montana Grizzlies in Missoula on March 7. The game gave the T-Birds confidence coming into the conference tournament.
“That was the first time we [beat Montana] in 20 years,” Marin said. “We knew what we were capable of the entire year. Even when we were going through that rough stretch, we just had to stay together and get back to sharing the ball and playing tough.”
That toughness showed early for the T-Birds. Junior guard John Knight III started the game off for the team with a steal and breakaway dunk. Marin and Cameron Oluyitan would hit a three pointer each over the next two minutes, giving the Thunderbirds an early 8-2 lead.
Allen then took over for the Vandals. The senior guard scored 14 of the Vandals’ next 16 points. Despite the run, Allen could not match the T-Birds team effort.
After Allen cut the SUU lead to 17-16, sophomore forward Maizen Fausett went on a 7-0 run of his own, including a forceful dunk and a three pointer to give the T-Birds a 24-16 lead with under 10 minutes left in the first half.
Marin would score the final field goal of the half for the T-Birds off a Fausett assist to give the T-Birds a 27-18 lead with five minutes before the end of the first half. The Vandals would take advantage of the T-Birds offensive struggles and went on a 9-2 run to end the half, cutting the deficit to 29-27 at the break.
SUU was called for four offensive fouls in the first half, helping the Vandals keep their deficit small and put their opponents into foul trouble.
“They really pack [their defense] in,” said Simon. “We’re such a drive oriented team, we’re physical… Their style, if you’re not making shots, that floor can get really tight in a hurry.”
With the score tied at 63 near the five minute mark of the second half, Allen and Knight III went to battle. Each player scored the next six points for their respective teams, leading to a 69-69 deadlock with two minutes left.
Oluyitan put the T-Birds ahead for good with a tough reverse layup, and Marin sealed the game with free throws after the Vandals were forced to foul.
Allen finished with 35 points and eight rebounds for the Vandals in his final collegiate game, leading Knight III to show his respect for the point guard after the game.
“He hit tough shots,” said Knight. “ There’s certain shots you got control of. But when he’s hot, you got to wait until he slows down.”
Knight finished the game 16 points and six rebounds, while Oluyitan and Andre Adams finished with 12 and 11 points, respectively.
Vandals guard Ja’Vary Christmas was the only other Vandal to score in double figures, notching 10 points.
SUU moves onto the second round of the Big Sky Tournament to face off against the second seeded University of Northern Colorado, the second consecutive year the teams have faced off in the conference tournament. The game will also mark the third consecutive year the T-Birds have faced the two seed, winning the previous two.
“The nice thing about tournament play is that it’s all about matchups,” said Simon. “Everyone is 0-0 every game. It’s all about the gameplans and matchups you can create. With Northern Colorado, we know them well. We know their system well. You have to limit them from going on the perimeter, which is easier said than done.”
SUU and UNC will tip off at 5:30 p.m. with the game streaming on Pluto TV.
Story by: Kurt Meacham
Photo by: SUU Athletics