In a game where the final score didn’t accurately reflect how little separated the two teams, Southern Utah University men’s basketball outlasted the University of Idaho 83-67.
Saturday’s completion of the season sweep over the Vandals at the America First Events Center marked the T-Birds’ ninth consecutive win, a record mark for the program.
“It’s hard to win one Division I game, and we’ve been on the other side of searching for wins [in the past], so we don’t take these for granted,” SUU head coach Todd Simon said postgame.
Junior Tevian Jones led all scorers with 30 points on 9-of-17 FG, including 6-of-11 3FG. Senior John Knight III finished with 17 points to go along with three assists and four steals. Juniors Harrison Butler and Maizen Fausett were the only other T-Birds to finish in double figures with 11 points each.
“We all played as a team,” Jones said. “We knew that in this game we’d have to lock in on defense more, and that’s what we did. We were playing team defense.”
Southern Utah started quickly, scoring the first five points of the game and jumping out to an early 8-2 lead. Idaho responded with an 8-2 run of their own and tied the game at 10 with 15:27 remaining in the half.
Fausett scored two free throws and a 3-pointer in his return to the court after missing Thursday’s game, helping the T-Birds forge ahead 16-10.
The Vandals battled back and pulled within one possession with 8:49 left in the half behind some stellar post play by Scott Blakney before Jones took over.
Jones kicked off a one-man 9-2 run on the next possession with a 3-pointer. He then scored two high-flying layups and added a pair of free throws to put the T-Birds ahead 32-23.
Butler ripped the ball away from Vandal big man Tanner Christensen a few minutes later, and his fastbreak layup extended the lead to double digits. At the break, the T-Birds led by a score of 43-33.
Jones scored 18 points and made 4-of-7 3-pointers in the first half.
The Vandals trailed for the entire period despite shooting at a higher percentage than the T-Birds. Idaho shot 14-of-25 (56%) compared to 15-of-31 (38%) for SUU, but the T-Birds’ 6-of-15 mark from behind the arc gave them the advantage at the break.
Both teams looked a bit sloppy at the start of the second half, but the Vandals slowly chipped away at the lead over the first ten minutes.
A fastbreak layup by Damen Thacker pulled the Vandals within three with 14:27 remaining, and after the teams exchanged free throws, Gabe Quinnett made a jumper at the elbow to cut the lead to 50-49.
Jones knocked down a three on the next possession, but the Vandals scored the next six points in a row and took their first lead 55-53 behind another Quinnett jumper with 10:24 remaining in the game.
Simon changed the T-Birds’ defensive scheme to a 2-3 zone after the Vandals forged ahead, and the move proved to be successful as his team held their opponents scoreless for the next 5:41.
“We’ve been kind of sitting on it for a little while, waiting for a good time to bring it out,” Simon said of the zone. “That was the difference, I thought. [The zone] got them out of their rhythm offensively and changed the style of the game, which was good for us.”
During that period SUU scored nine straight points and claimed a 62-55 lead before Thacker broke the scoring drought with a tough layup with 4:43 remaining. The T-Birds allowed the Vandals to lead for just 28 seconds in the game.
Knight III finished a 3-point play over Thacker on the next possession, and as the teams exchanged words after the basket, Idaho’s Ja’Vary Christmas was called for a technical foul. Jones nailed both technical free throws and as a result, the T-Birds found themselves once again up 10 points.
Idaho’s Babacar Thiombane made two free throws on the next possession before Dre Marin broke the Vandals’ press and found Fausett in the corner for three. Thiombane was called for a technical foul after making a layup on the Vandals’ next trip down, and after Jones made two more free throws to put the T-Birds up by 11 with 3:38 remaining, the lead proved insurmountable for Idaho.
The T-Birds killed the clock and made 11 straight free throws down the stretch to secure the victory, claiming their largest lead of the game with their final shot — a 3-pointer by Jones with three seconds remaining.
Idaho scored 48 points in the paint and shot 53% from the field in the loss. The Vandals committed 19 turnovers and 23 fouls in the contest.
Thacker led the way offensively scoring 16 points for Idaho. Freshman Ethan Kilgore was the only other Vandal to finish in double figures with 10.
With the win, SUU moves to 8-2 on the season and 4-0 in Big Sky Conference play. Idaho continues to seek their first win of the 2020-21 season, now sitting at 0-9 overall and 0-6 in conference.
Southern Utah men’s basketball will be back in action on Thursday, Jan. 14 when the team travels to Cheney, Washington to take on Eastern Washington University.
Story by: Connor Sanders
Photo courtesy of SUU Athletics Strategic Communication