Hoping to avoid back-to-back Big Sky Conference losses for the first time this season, Southern Utah University men’s basketball is set to host No. 1 Montana State University on Saturday, Feb. 19.
Conference play will wrap up in just over two weeks, meaning every remaining game is extremely important. However, with Montana State being atop the Big Sky, this is one of the most crucial games to date for SUU.
A look at the Thunderbirds
Currently ranked No. 3 in the Big Sky at 10-4 and 16-8 overall, SUU is amidst a brutal stretch to close out the schedule. Five of their seven final games are against the other top seeds in the Big Sky: Weber State University, the University of Northern Colorado, the University of Montana and Montana State University twice.
The Thunderbirds began this stretch with a contest against UNC in Greeley, Colorado on Monday, Feb. 14. Facing a seven-point deficit coming out of halftime, Southern Utah came back and built a 17-point lead with five and a half minutes remaining.
Then, disaster struck and a series of missed shots and turnovers by SUU caused a Northern Colorado comeback to win the game 100-95. Blowing that big of a lead in that amount of time is one of the most disappointing losses of the season for the Thunderbirds.
Sophomore center Jason Spurgin had the best game of his time at SUU so far, scoring a career-high 22 points to go along with four rebounds. Senior forward Maizen Fausett scored his 1,000th point as a Thunderbird as part of a 20-point performance on the night.
With the remaining Thunderbird schedule as brutal as it is, the loss to the Bears had to sting.
A look at the opponent
MSU was the hottest team in the Big Sky with an 11-game win streak, but an 88-86 loss to Eastern Washington University on Thursday, Feb. 17 slowed all momentum. Still, the Bobcats hold the No. 1 seed in the Big Sky at 12-3 in conference and 20-6 overall.
Leading the charge is forward Jubrile Belo. The 6’9” junior averages 13.5 points per game on 59% shooting and is one of two Bobcats named to the Big Sky Preseason All-Conference Team. The other player named to the team is guard Xavier Bishop, who averages 12.8 points and 4.4 assists per contest.
As a team, Montana State has the highest scoring margin in the conference: averaging 76.8 points a game, fifth in the Big Sky, while allowing 68.3, second in the conference, for a differential of 8.5. They have also been holding Big Sky opponents to the lowest field goal percentage at just 42%.
There is a very good chance that Montana State finishes the season atop the Big Sky Conference. However, the Bobcats and Thunderbirds have two games to play over the next two weeks. Saturday’s contest is at home for SUU, giving them a chance to play spoiler.
Tipoff is at 2 p.m. at the America First Event Center and the game can also be live-streamed on ESPN+.
Story by: Christian Esparza
Photo Courtesy of SUU Athletics