T-Birds Gear Up for Final Home Game of the Season Against NAU

The Southern Utah University men’s basketball team looks to add to their five-game win streak this week in a home-and-home series against Northern Arizona University.

The T-Birds are coming off two impressive wins against California State University at Sacramento in Cedar City last week. 

Game one was highlighted by Tevian Jones, who scored 24 points on 13 shots. He also snagged seven rebounds in the effort — his second highest total of the season. Five other T-Birds scored in double-digits in the 88-69 win.

Jones followed game one with an impressive 15 point, eight rebound outing in game two. John Knight III led all T-Birds with 16 points while going 8-for-11 from the field. Dre Marin scored 11 and is now just seven points shy of 1,000 points as a T-Bird. SUU won 77-57, maintaining the team’s undefeated record at home.

SUU has the highest scoring offense in the Big Sky, averaging 85.3 PPG, while also boasting a positive scoring margin of 15.7. The T-Birds are also the best rebounding team in the conference, averaging 40.5 RPG with a positive margin of 9.9.

The wins against Sac. State propelled SUU to a 15-3 record on the season and an 8-2 record in conference play. Saturday’s win was the T-Birds’ tenth game in conference play, which allowed them to claim their rightful seed (No. 2) per Big Sky rules.

Only Eastern Washington University sits above SUU in the conference standings (11-2). SUU can overtake the Eagles if they win their final four games, but will need EWU to drop one of their remaining two games. 

Scouting Report

At 5-13, the Lumberjacks have struggled throughout the 2020-21 season. They have yet to win more than two games in a row and just dropped both games in their two-game series against Weber State University by a combined 55 points last week.

Head coach Shane Burcar’s team ranks 10th in the conference in scoring offense, points allowed and scoring margin. They allow teams to shoot above 50% per game from the field and 40% per game from 3-point range.

The Lumberjacks also rank dead last in rebounding in the conference, pulling down just 28 RPG and posting a negative margin of 5.0. They also rank last in blocked shots per game (1.4 BPG) and assists per game (10.2 APG).

NAU does not rank in the upper half of the conference in any statistical category.

Despite the poor team statistics, NAU is home to the best scorer in the conference, Cameron Shelton, who averages 20.6 PPG. Shelton has started and played in all 18 games for Burcar this season and is shooting a solid 43% from the field and 34% from 3-point range. He also leads the team in assists with 3.9 APG and rebounds with 5.9 RPG.

No other Lumberjack averages double figures though Luke Avdalovic comes close with 9.9 PPG.  By the numbers, Avdalovic is the best 3-point shooter on the team, averaging 42% from downtown on the season.

Burcar has struggled to narrow down his preferred rotation. 11 of the 13 players on the roster have seen action in at least 14 of the 18 games that NAU has played this season.

Keys to the game

  1. Don’t beat yourself

It’s been said before, but SUU sometimes shows a tendency to play down to the level of their competition against weaker opponents.

Against Bethesda College, an NAIA school from Southern California, SUU trailed by one with just two minutes to go in the first half, and led by just three at halftime. 

Against a winless University of Idaho team, SUU struggled to put distance between themselves and the Vandals until midway through the second half in their Jan. 7 match-up, and even then only bested Idaho by five points.

SUU would do well to avoid a slow start, especially against a prolific scorer like Shelton, who can punish teams who don’t pay him enough respect on defense.

                2. Have fun

It’s (potentially) the last home game for seniors Ivan Madunic, John Knight III and Dre Marin. While the three upperclassmen were honored last week in a “Senior Day” win over Sac. State in case of any COVID-19 cancellations this week, their final game in the America First Event Center should bring plenty of emotion.

As long as Madunic, Knight and Marin can shake off the early “final home game” jitters, the T-Birds should manage to obtain a comfortable lead before half time.

Madunic has been a T-Bird for five years. Marin has played at SUU for four, and Knight has played two after transferring from Utah State University. This is the first season all three have played on the same court at the same time, and the results have been tremendous. 

So far, SUU is undefeated in the America First Events Center this season. It’s up to the seniors to keep it that way. It would be a shame if they let that slip through their fingers in the final home game.

Where, When, and How?

The T-Birds and Lumberjacks tip off Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 6 p.m. in Cedar City. The game can be viewed on PlutoTV channel 1055. Saturday’s game will take place in Flagstaff at 12 p.m. and can be viewed on PlutoTV channel 1058.