Defense leads the Thunderbirds to an overtime win against Northern Arizona University

Senior guard Harrison Butler’s historic performance led the way in a thrilling victory as the Southern Utah University men’s basketball team outlasted former Big Sky Conference foe the Northern Arizona University Lumberjacks 106-101. The game went to overtime and featured 19 lead changes and 14 ties on Saturday, Dec. 17, at the America First Event Center. 

Harrison Butler joins 1,200-point club with career effort

Butler became the 10th member of the 1,200-point club in Thunderbird history with a career-high 23 points against Northern Arizona for 1,221 career points. The effort pushed Butler ahead of former leader Davis Baker, who had 1,205 points as a Thunderbird.

Senior forward Maizen Fausett tacked on seven points to increase his seventh-ranked career tally to 1,231 points while senior guard Tevian Jones’ season-high 31 points moved him to a total of 1,038 points in an SUU uniform. Overall, Jones has scored 1,136 career points thanks to his time at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Points

— 1,710; Davor Marcelic (1989-1992)

— 1,568; Jeff Monaco (1997-2001)

— 1,434; Dre Marin (2017-2022)

— 1,300; James McGee (2014-2018)

— 1,297; Richard Barton (1989-1993)

— 1,273; Jackson Stevenett (2010-2013)

— 1,231; Maizen Fausett (ACTIVE)

— 1,223; John Knight III (2019-2022)

— 1,221; Harrison Butler (ACTIVE)

— 1,205; Davis Baker (2007-2010)

— 1,038; Tevian Jones (ACTIVE)

Thunderbird tidbits

Sophomore guard Drake Allen scored a career-high 22 points against NAU, he also crashed the glass with five rebounds. Junior center Jason Spurgin also broke into double figures with 11 points and six rebounds.

Jones led the Thunderbirds defensively with five steals, a game-high. Butler led with four huge blocks on NAU’s junior guard Jalen Cone. Trying to put a stop to Cone’s 45 point night, Butler’s defense was game changing for the Thunderbirds. 

SUU’s aggressive offense proved to be enough to win the contest as the Thunderbirds shot 82.4% from the charity stripe thanks to a 42-51 performance. The 42 made free throws are among the top five performances of all time for SUU. The team made 54 against Bethesda on Nov. 18, 2016, while also connecting on 44 free throws against Weber State on Dec. 14, 1991.

Highest-scoring contest against NAU

The 106-101 victory proved to be just the second time either team had scored 100 points in the 34-game history against NAU. SUU owned the only previous triple-digit scoring effort with a 100-74 triumph against the Lumberjacks in Cedar City on Dec. 19, 1992. The most points NAU had previously scored against SUU came by way of a 96-91 NAU win in Flagstaff, Arizona, on March 2, 1994. 

Five straight wins against NAU

Saturday’s game marks the fifth consecutive victory against the Lumberjacks, a streak that began with an 85-80 victory in Cedar City on Feb. 23, 2021. One more win against NAU will match SUU’s series-record six wins in a row from Feb. 27, 2016, to Jan. 12, 2019. 

Century-mark scoring efforts

This was the fourth game in triple digits for the prolific Thunderbird offense. The Thunderbirds previously put up 100 or more points three times this season.

— 127 vs. Bethesda (67), Nov. 14, 2022

— 120 vs. West Coast Baptist (49), Dec. 6, 2022

— 117 vs. La Verne (55), Nov. 10, 2022

106 vs. Northern Arizona (101), Dec. 17, 2022

That matches the most 100-point performances in a season since the 2016-17 team cleared 100 points in four contests, albeit two of them were in exhibition games. 

Recent overtime history

This game makes four straight overtime wins for the Thunderbirds. Earlier this year, SUU downed another former Big Sky opponent Sacramento State in double overtime 91-87. Previously, SUU downed Yale 88-85 in overtime on Nov. 23, 2021, before pouncing on Portland State 85-82 in overtime on Jan. 27, 2022. 

First half

Northern Arizona jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead during the opening minute of play before Jones splashed a three-pointer at 18:48 to close the gap to 5-3. Following a pair of shots falling for the Lumberjacks, Butler made history at the line with back-to-back free throws to close SUU to within 9-5 with 16:59 to play. Those points pushed Butler over into the 1,200-point club.

Southern Utah took its first lead of the contest at the 14:31 mark with a Dee Barnes trifecta as SUU moved up 15-14 thanks to a 7-5 run during its previous 2:04 of action. The Thunderbirds remained in the lead at the 12:54 mark following a dynamic Jones dunk as the teams continued to trade the lead back and forth. Fausett drained a trey with 11:16 to go, keeping SUU up 24-23 before NAU turned in a 5-0 burst to take a 28-24 lead at the 9:33 mark.

The Lumberjacks stretched their lead to five before Jones sparked a 10-4 run to put SUU up 40-39. Jones scored seven points during this sprint of scoring. NAU closed out the half with a layup to retake the lead 41-40.

Second half

Southern Utah exploded out of the locker room with an 8-4 rally to grab a 48-45 lead heading into a timeout with 17:30 on the clock. Jones collected a quick five points during this stretch. 

The Lumberjacks countered with a 6-2 run of their own during the next 1:33 of play to take a 51-50 lead. 

As the slobber knocker continued with both teams throwing haymakers back and forth, Parsa Fallah delivered a monster dunk with 14:18 on the clock to tie the match at 54-54. 

With SUU trailing 58-56, Butler slashed through the lane with a jackhammer dunk at 12:24 to tie the game at 58. Butler again helped to keep SUU in the game with a clutch three-pointer at 10:46 that moved them to 62-61 following a 4-0 run from NAU. Allen then completed an old-fashioned three-point play to put the Thunderbirds up 64-62 with 10:08 left to play.

After NAU knotted the game up at 64-64, the Thunderbirds feasted at the free-throw line with a quick 4-0 run to take a 68-64 lead with 9:12 on the clock. Spurgin completed another old-fashioned three-point play of his own with 8:09 left to push SUU up by five, 71-66.

The Lumberjacks fired back during the next 3:27 of play with a 12-5 run, taking a 78-75 lead with 4:42 on the clock. Butler, however, continued to score in key points of the contest with a pair of free throws that pulled SUU back to 78-77 with 4:32 to play. After causing a turnover, Butler drained a free throw, putting the Thunderbirds up 78-76. Two more free throws from Fausett positioned the Thunderbirds up 80-78 with 4:15 to go. Allen forced an NAU timeout at 3:26 with a driving layup to extend the SUU lead 82-78.

Northern Arizona unfurled a swift 4-0 run to tie the contest at 82-82 with 2:56 left. However, the Thunderbirds turned up the heat with a 5-0 burst of their own, leading 87-82 with 2:17 on the clock thanks to a three-point play from Butler. 

After NAU cut SUU’s advantage to 89-88 with 55 seconds on the clock, Butler drew a foul and scored a free throw with 44 seconds left, setting the Thunderbirds up 90-88. He tacked on another point in a 1-2 effort at the charity stripe with 23 seconds, holding the Southern Utah three-point advantage.

Northern Arizona had enough left in the tank to tie the contest at 92-92 with two seconds on the clock, forcing overtime. 

Overtime

NAU picked up the initial points in extra time, taking a 94-92 lead before Spurgin crushed the rim with a dunk thanks to Allen’s assist to tie the contest at 4:21.

A pair of free throws put NAU back up 96-94 at 3:58 before SUU cut the gap to one point with an Allen free throw. The Lumberjacks pushed their lead back up to four thanks to a three-pointer from the top of the arc at 2:55.

Allen pulled SUU within two points after a layup at 2:23 with NAU up 99-97 before the Lumberjacks extended their lead by two at 1:56 thanks to a pair of free throws. Jones countered with three free throws to cut NAU’s lead to 101-100 with 1:40 on the clock. 

Thanks to a strong defensive effort, including a block by Butler, SUU retook the lead 102-101 with an Allen layup. With only 17 seconds left, another Butler block proved key, stretching SUU’s lead to 104-101 with a pair of free throws from Jones. 

Southern Utah’s defense closed out their victory down the stretch as NAU failed to score during the final 1:56 of overtime. Jones drained two more free throws with 5.6 seconds to play as SUU grabbed a 106-101 lead and held on to the win. 

Next up

Southern Utah heads back out on the road with a road trip to Boulder, Colorado, to take on the Colorado Buffaloes on Wednesday, Dec. 21, at 5 p.m. MST. 

Article by: Chevy Blackburn

sports@suunew.net

Photos by: SUU Athletics