Beating the same team twice in two days is a difficult task. It takes some guts, some skill, and some luck, but it doesn’t hurt to have a Big Sky Player of the Week.
Luckily, for Southern Utah University men’s basketball, they found all of those things and more in junior forward Maizen Fausett.
The T-Birds went 2-0 last week against the University of Montana, a team that was ranked four spots ahead of them in the preseason media poll and five spots ahead in the coaches poll.
Only two points decided the two games. SUU counted on big time players and unlikely heroes to secure the series sweep.
In game one of the series, SUU guard John Knight III put SUU on his back and sparked a late game push. Knight III secured nine rebounds to go along with his 21 points, including a last second free-throw to seal the win for the T-Birds.
In game two, SUU guard Nick Fleming recorded two assists, a steal, a major offensive rebound and a game winning free-throw to boost the T-Birds on top of the Griz. Fleming had only played nine minutes against Montana the game previous.
The one constant through it all was the performance of Fausett, who secured his first conference player of the week honors as a T-Bird.
Fausett assisted or scored on each of the first three field goals for SUU. A drive and kick to forward Tevian Jones for a triple, a straight away 3-pointer after a pass from center Courtese Cooper, and an offensive rebound and layup gave SUU an early advantage.
SUU center Ivan Madunic went to the bench around the 5:45 mark in the first half, which left the task of guarding Montana 6’9” center Mack Anderson and 6’8” forward Kyle Owens up to Fausett, who is listed at 6’6”.
Despite Fausett giving up a few inches, the Griz pulled down zero offensive rebounds while Fausett anchored the defense, and Owens and Anderson combined for just four points and three rebounds to close out the second half.
Despite a nasty collision towards the end of the first half, Fausett continued to be a steady presence for the T-Birds in the second half.
He opened the second half by scoring the first two field goals for SUU. With the game knotted up at 40, Fausett stole the ball from Griz freshman forward Josh Bannan, which led to two free-throws by Knight III to put the T-Birds on top for the first time since the score was 3-0.
As the game carried on into the final minute, the Griz clung to a one point lead, 60-59.
Madunic had fouled out, which prompted head coach Todd Simon to sub in Jones. Once again, Fausett found himself as the anchor of SUU’s defense.
On a crucial late possession, Simon called a play that Fausett had never practiced before. Fausett sprinted off a cross screen toward the opposite corner, where Knight III found him with a perfect pass. He rose up for the shot and was fouled with just 48 seconds left.
“He’s never run that play in his life,” said Simon. “But he knows every play and every position and he went out and made the play.”
Fausett went 2-3 from the line and gave the T-Birds a two point lead. Later, free-throws from Marin and Knight III secured the win for the T-Birds.
When speaking of that final play, Fausett did not tout his own accomplishments, instead praising the pass by Knight III.
“I love playing with John,” said Fausett. “He’s great at kicking it out when I’m alone in the corner.”
Fausett finished the game with 14 points, five rebounds, one steal, one block, one assist and zero turnovers.
Fausett once again made an early impact on the game. He secured six of the first seven rebounds for the T-Birds, three of them being offensive. When Fausett subbed out at 10:57 in the first half, the forward had a stat line of five points and seven rebounds.
With his team down big early in the second half, Fausett made a statement on the defensive end. He blocked a lay-up, and then hit an inside jumper a possession later.
After a quick five points by Marin, Fausett hit his second three of the game to cut the lead to three. Another stop on the defensive end saw a rebound and two free-throws by Fausett cut the lead to one.
Montana refused to let SUU take back the lead, but Fausett and Co. refused to go away.
With just two minutes left, Fausett was fouled and hit two free throws to cut the lead to just three. A couple possessions later, a dunk by Fausett cut the lead to one.
With Madunic on the bench, Fausett held down the paint for the final two minutes of the game. Montana bigs Owens and Michael Steadman scored zero points, secured just one rebound, and turned the ball over once in the final two minutes.
Fausett finished the game with 16 points, nine rebounds, two steals, one block and went 4-4 from the foul stripe.
As a whole, Fausett scored the second-most points between the two teams last week with 30, and averaged the third most minutes with 32.5MPG (Owens scored 31 points total, Knight III and Marin averaged 36 minutes and 33.5 minutes, respectively).
He also snagged the most rebounds of any player with 14. He tied with Marin for the most steals (3), and with Madunic and Montana center Mack Anderson for blocks (2). Fausett also only turned the ball over twice in the two games.
It was Fausett’s steady presence and consistent offensive and defensive threat that garnered him the Big Sky Conference Player of the Week award.
The award, along with his increased usage on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball, show just how far Fausett has come.
As a freshman, the Saratoga Springs native appeared in 33 contests for the T-Birds averaging 4.5 PPG and 3.2 RPG.
As a sophomore, Fausett saw his statistics increase in every category. His minutes increased from 13.1 MPG to 22.0 MPG, points from 4.5 PPG to 8.0 PPG, and rebounds from 3.2 RPG to 5.7 RPG.
This season, Fausett seems to have solidified his role as an important starter in Simon’s rotation. His impact on the court has not gone unnoticed to Simon.
“[Maizen] is a warrior,” Simon said. “If I had 15 [Maizens] I’d sleep great at night and win one million games.”
Story by: Kelton Jacobsen
Photo courtesy of SUU Athletics Strategic Communication