The No. 1 seeded Southern Utah University Thunderbirds defeated the No. 8 University of Northern Colorado Bears Thursday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky men’s basketball conference tournament by a score of 91-83.
John Knight III led all scorers with a career-high 34 points while going 13-of-21 from the field and 8-of-8 from the free throw line. Dre Marin followed with 15 points while also shooting 8-of-8 from the charity stripe, and Tevian Jones contributed 13 points while snagging a team high eight rebounds.
Bodie Hume scored 30 points and snagged eight rebounds for the Bears. Daylen Kountz put up 22 of his own but shot just 1-of-7 from 3-point range in the loss. Two Bears players, Matt Johnson II and Kur Jockuch, fouled out.
SUU forced the action early and often by pressing the Bears from the jump. They forced 18 total turnovers and scored 22 points off those giveaways. The Bears, however, outrebounded the T-Birds 37-34, but SUU countered by shooting 86% from the free-throw line while the Bears shot just 68%.
UNCO jumped out to an early 10-4 lead in large part due to two 3-point buckets from Hume. A Jones 3-point counter and a layup from Ivan Madunic closed the gap to one before the Bears put together an 8-0 run to go back up nine.
“We didn’t know what plays they were going to run, but we knew they ran through Hume,” Knight said. “He’s going to miss some eventually… he can’t make all of them.”
A Maizen Fausett jumper at the 11:47 mark cut the lead to seven, and that proved to be the turning point for SUU. They scored on each of their next five possessions to tie the ball game at 22 with 8:26 to go in the first half.
The two teams traded buckets the next several possessions, but at the 5:04 mark, SUU burst out on an 11-0 run to extend their lead to 11. The T-Birds went into halftime leading 46-34.
Hume and the Bears made several advances on SUU throughout the second half, but each were staved off due to the T-Birds’ solid defense and Knight’s prolific ability to get to the basket. SUU’s largest lead was 16 after two Knight free throws.
The Bears made one final push to cut into the T-Birds lead and did so effectively. UNCO began their run at 6:55 and by 1:55 the SUU lead was cut to just four.
At that point the Bears went ice cold and missed nine of their final 10 shots.
SUU hit their free-throws down the stretch and ended up on top when the final buzzer sounded, 91-83.
The T-Birds finished the game shooting 45% from the field and 36% from 3-point range all while committing just nine turnovers. SUU Head coach Todd Simon played a nine man rotation, but it was Marquis Moore who held the assignment to guard Hume for the majority of the game. Moore finished with 10 points and six boards and finished with a team high plus/minus of 13.
“There is always someone that steps up [in the conference tournament],” Simon said. “In Marquise… we had full confidence. He was really good defensively.”
The road to the championship continues as SUU takes on Montana State University who just defeated Idaho State University, 71-63. The game is scheduled for tomorrow, March 12, at 5 p.m, and will be broadcast on PlutoTV.
Story by: Kelton Jacobsen
Photo courtesy of SUU Athletic Department Strategic Communication