The Southern Utah University men’s basketball team got its revenge over in-state rivals Weber State University by a score of 77-72.
Saturday’s win came after the T-Birds were overwhelmed by the Wildcats in Ogden on Thursday and is the team’s ninth straight win in the America First Events Center.
SUU led for 37 minutes in the contest, but the T-Birds found themselves down by a point with less than a minute to go.
Sophomore guard Damani McEntire, who had played just one minute in the game before entering the court, subbed in to pressure Wildcat point guard Isaiah Brown as he brought up the court. As Brown turned to change direction, McEntire lurched in front of him, stole the ball away, and laid it in with 47 seconds left.
“I didn’t play much, so the whole time I was out, I was studying every move he does and the way he brings it up the court,” McEntire told reporters postgame. “I knew he was going to turn his back on me, and once he did, I stole it and laid it up.”
SUU forced another turnover on the next possession, and after a pair of free throws and a near-miss on a last-second heave by Brown, secured the win.
“When Damani goes into the game, watch the energy on the bench because everybody knows what’s coming,” head coach Todd Simon said. “We’re always saying, ‘He’s going to get somebody,’ and then he got somebody, so that was a fun moment for the guys.”
Maizen Fausett scored a career-high 24 points in the game, shooting 6-of-11 from the field and 11-of-13 at the free-throw line. Harrison Butler added 18 points and had two steals. Tevian Jones finished with 17 points on 4-of-11 3FG.
Brown scored 26 points on 11-of-17 shots and pulled in six rebounds. Zahir Porter managed 12 points, but committed four turnovers in the contest.
“We left so many things on the table on Thursday,” Simon said. “Today was a better representation of who we are defensively and who we need to be the rest of the way in the league.”
Both teams scored on their first possession of the game. Porter scored a floater in the paint after Weber won the tip, and Ivan Madunic found John Knight III for a layup immediately after.
Simon looked to get Fausett involved early. He scored a layup and four free throws to give his team an early 8-4 advantage at the first media timeout. Fausett scored nine of SUU’s first eleven points.
The teams exchanged baskets over the next few minutes before Jones buried a 26-footer and Fausett scored off a face-up in the post to put SUU ahead by six — their largest lead of the half.
Weber charged back with a 7-1 run led by Brown to cut the lead to 18-17.
SUU maintained a slim advantage for most of the first half, but Weber never trailed by more than two possessions. The teams battled back and forth throughout, answering each offensive punch with a counter of their own.
Fausett continued to pour it in for SUU, scoring 22 points on 6-of-7 FG. He drew seven fouls and shot 9-of-11 at the line in the first half.
Aanen Moody splashed a 3-pointer just before the break to take the T-Birds’ lead into halftime, 38-34.
The teams had nearly identical shooting stats at the break. SUU shot 12-of-27 (44%) from the field and 3-of-11 (27%) from three compared to 13-of-31 (42%) and 5-of-15 (33%) for the Wildcats.
Brown scored 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting in the first half for the Wildcats.
Fausett picked up his third foul on Weber’s first possession of the second half, and his replacement Harrison Butler nailed a 3-pointer immediately after subbing in to put SUU up 41-37.
Jones hit a 3-pointer to push the lead back to six, and he buried another one over Brown moments later to extend the lead to 49-41 with 14 minutes to play.
The T-Birds forced the Wildcats to miss six straight shots while Fausett was on the bench, sparking an 8-1 run, which was capped off by two more Jones free throws to briefly put the T-Birds ahead by double digits.
Weber scored three straight baskets through Brown and Porter to shave the gap to 57-52 with less than eight minutes to play before Jones splashed another deep 3-pointer.
But the T-Birds couldn’t fend off the Wildcat run. Brown pulled them within four with a mid-range jumper, then a pair of free throws by Dontay Bassett made the score 63-61 with four minutes left.
After some impressive ball movement, Porter found himself open in the corner and drilled a 3-pointer to cut the lead to one.
Fausett added a pair of free throws before picking up his fifth foul with three minutes remaining.
The Wildcats tied things up for the first time since the 17:59 mark of the first half after an offensive rebound and putback by Dillon Jones. Butler’s ensuing 3-point attempt rimmed out, and the Wildcats reclaimed the lead 70-68 after a mid-range jumper by Seikou Sisoho Jawara with 1:41 remaining.
Butler answered by converting a 3-point play to go ahead, but Brown had his own response — a double-clutch layup over Dre Marin — to take a one-point advantage into the final minute.
Jones airballed a contested 3-pointer on SUU’s next possession, but McEntire’s steal-and-score gave the T-Birds the lead once again, 73-72.
McEntire forced Brown to miss on the ensuing possession, and after an offensive-rebound, Porter mishandled a pass in the corner and let the ball run off his hands out of bounds to give SUU the ball with 16 seconds left.
Moody made both free throws after Weber fouled to stop the clock, but the Wildcats still had a chance to tie down three with 12.4 seconds remaining.
Brown took the ball quickly up the court and launched a contested shot from about 28 feet out. It sailed high into the air, hit off the backboard and narrowly bounced off the front of the rim. Knight snagged the rebound and made his free throws after being fouled to earn the win.
Free throw shooting proved to be the difference in the contest. Both teams posted similar figures from the field (41% for SUU, 39% for WSU), but the T-Birds shot 15 more free throws than their opponent. SUU made 27-of-31 attempts at the line.
There were five lead changes and four ties in the contest, and neither team could put together a scoring run larger than seven straight points.
With the win, SUU moves to 11-3 on the season, and 7-2 in Big Sky Conference play. Weber falls to 7-4 overall and 2-2 in the conference. The T-Birds will be back in action on Jan. 28 when they travel to Pocatello, Idaho, to take on Idaho State University.
Story and photo by: Connor Sanders