The Southern Utah University Thunderbirds started their season on the road against the University of New Mexico Lobos. After the close loss, men’s basketball came back home to face the University of La Verne Leopards for the home opener and came away with a definitive win.
In their final game of the week, the Thunderbirds battled the University of Saint Katherine Firebirds at home and came out victorious, propelling them to a 2-1 start for the first time in two seasons.
Thunderbirds versus Lobos
The Thunderbirds started their season in one of the toughest environments in all of college basketball: “The Pit” at the University of New Mexico. The Lobos have won 82% of their home games all-time but finished ninth in the Mountain West Conference last season.
Senior guard Tevian Jones had the hot hand all night for the Thunderbirds with 28 points on 50% shooting from beyond the arc.
Maizen Fausett started the game off slow and went 1-9 from the field in the first half. The second half was a different story, as the senior forward went 5-5 to finish with 13 points and 12 rebounds. Fausett recorded his 13th career double-double.
Junior guard Jamal Mashburn Jr. scored 24 points for the Lobos, and senior guard Jaelen House followed that with 23 points of his own. In the final minutes of the second half, Jones kept the Thunderbirds within reach by banking in a pair of threes, but it was not enough, and the Lobos won 89-81.
“New Mexico is a good team; they are going to finish in the top part of the Mountain West,” said head coach Simon. “They have a really good roster and did a great job, so that is a really good test for us.”
Thunderbirds versus Leopards
In their home opener, the Thunderbirds hosted the University of La Verne Leopards for the first time since 2015. Sophomore guard Drake Allen was unstoppable in the paint, going a perfect 8-8 from the field with 17 points. Senior guard Harrison Butler was the second leading scorer with 16 points, and Tevian Jones followed with 14 points.
The Thunderbirds defense didn’t allow a single Leopard to score double-digit points. Defensively, Butler and Jones had four steals apiece, and freshman center Parsa Fallah led the game with two blocks off of the bench.
With a win on the horizon and fans chanting “We want Josh,” Simon put in freshman walk-on guard Josh Valentine. Getting his first playing time of his college career, Valentine ended the game with an exclamation point by making two long-range threes as the Thunderbirds breezed to a 117-55 victory.
Thunderbirds versus Firebirds
In their final matchup of the week, the Thunderbirds faced the Saint Katherine Firebirds, who got off to a quick start. Down 4-3, the Thunderbirds found their rhythm and went on a 9-0 run. Five of those points came from sophomore center Jason Spurgin.
Senior graduate guard Cameron Healy was the spark plug off of the bench for coach Simon and scored eight points, including two makes from beyond the arc. Healy finished with 15 points, which was the most by any player.
Another key player off the bench was freshman guard Martel Williams, who made hustle plays on both ends of the court. Williams scored 12 points and had five rebounds while shooting an efficient 5-7 from the field.
Sophomore forward JD Lloyd-Watson led the Firebirds in scoring with 13 points, which was followed by sophomore guard Bryan Baptiste’s 10. The Thunderbirds were too much for the Firebirds, and won in a commanding fashion 91-48.
The Thunderbirds will host Bethesda University of California Monday, Nov. 14, at 7 p.m. in the America First Event Center. On Friday, Nov. 18, at 6 p.m., men’s basketball will travel to the University of Kansas to battle the Jayhawks.
“Every one of these games, we schedule to win — we scheduled Kansas to win,” said Simon. “It is just our five and their five; we will lace them up and see what happens.”
Article by: Chevy Blackburn
Photos by: SUU Athletics