Southern Utah University men’s basketball overcame the University of Montana by a score of 64-63. The game was decided by a final free-throw made by SUU guard John Knight III after he was fouled on the final possession. It is the first time since 1999 that the T-Birds have beaten the Grizzlies in Cedar City.
Knight III finished the game with 21 points and 9 rebounds and played all but 35 seconds of the game. Forward Maizen Fausett dropped 14, including two late free-throws after being fouled on the three-point line. Center Ivan Madunic and guard Dre Marin each pitched in eight.
Montana was led by guard Josh Vazquez, who scored 14 and went 4-6 from downtown including a triple with 31 seconds to go that tied the ball game. Center Michael Steadman chipped in 12 but sat the majority of the game due to foul trouble.
“I think these guys earned every bit of this win,” said SUU head coach Todd Simon. “In the second half we got a lot of stops when we needed them.”
The first half saw 19 fouls between the teams. SUU struggled to find the bottom of the net, shooting 33% from the field while Montana shot 54% from the field and 50% from downtown. SUU hit six free-throws to keep the game in single digits going into the second half.
“We committed to getting downhill and forcing the action and that led to us getting to the line,” said Simon.
Transfers Marquis Moore and Nick Fleming saw extended time in the first half after Marin and Madunic got into foul trouble. Moore finished the game a plus-six and Fleming a plus-3.
“Nick’s a good player,” said Simon. “And I thought Marquese did a great job helping us get stops.”
The second half was highlighted by more free throws, particularly for the T-Birds. The Griz fouled 28 total times, which resulted in 40 total free throws for SUU. Knight shot 10-15 from the stripe for the game, followed by Harrison Butler shooting 5-10. Despite the poor free-throw shooting, SUU’s aggressive play and their ability to force turnovers kept the game close. A late three by Madunic and two clutch free-throws by both Fausett and Marin gave the T-Birds the late advantage.
“I think it just shows if we do what we know we need to do we can beat anybody,” Fausett said.
Montana still shot better than SUU in the second half, but SUU’s defense forced 13 total turnovers and scored 15 points off those turnovers.
Head coach Todd Simon played a lineup of Knight, Fausett, Marin, Butler, and Madunic the entire second half before Madunic fouled out with one minute left. Simon subbed in Tevian Jones, SUU’s leading scorer who had a cold shooting night, who immediately got a late offensive rebound that led to Fausett getting fouled for three shots.
“Tev was hyping us up the entire game from the bench,” said Fausett. “When he came in we just knew he’d do the right thing, we were confident, we weren’t worried.”
“Maiz had never run that play before,” said Simon. “But he knows every play and every position and he went out and made the play.”
Simon used Fausett as a switchblade defender in the final minute after Madunic picked up his fifth foul. Fausett didn’t skip a beat and filled the role just as Simon wanted.
“It was different, guarding guards to bigs,” said Fausett. “But I’ve done it all before. I tried to stay focused to the scouting report. As long as I do that, I’m good.”
The T-Birds know beating a team twice in a row is a difficult task, but they plan to use the rankings to their motivation.
“They had us at 7 [in the rankings] and us at 2,” said Knight. “We were mad as a team when we saw that.”
SUU is set to take on Montana once again Saturday, December 5th at 12PM in the America First Event Center. The game can be accessed on suutbirds.com and through the Pluto TV Network.
Story by: Kelton Jacobsen
Photo by: Mitchell Quartz