Southern Utah University men’s basketball has earned two more wins, advancing them to 10-5 on the season. Now 2-0 in Western Athletic Conference play, SUU is currently tied for first.
SUU versus New Mexico State University
WAC play for the Thunderbirds started with a win over defending conference champions the New Mexico State Aggies. The win marks only the fourth time a WAC opponent has won in the Pan American Center since Jan. 1, 2012. The three others are the University of Nevada, Reno, Utah Valley University and Stephen F. Austin State University.
The early stages of the first half looked bleak for the Thunderbirds as the Aggies went on a 10-0 run to start the game. At the 16:03 mark, the Thunderbirds finally got their first bucket of the night, courtesy of sophomore Drake Allen. Allen finished the game with 14 points.
Southern Utah started to pick up some momentum of their own, going on a 12-4 scoring run to take their first lead of the night at the 10:14 mark from a three-pointer by graduate student Cameron Healy. The lead went back and forth throughout the rest of the first half with both teams exchanging blows. The Thunderbirds walked into halftime with the lead at 37-32.
The second half started much like the first, with both teams fighting hard to start conference play with a win. The Thunderbird defense kept the Aggies at bay, which resulted in points for the Thunderbirds as sophomore Jason Spurgin extended the Thunderbird lead to 14 at the 8:52 mark. Spurgin finished the game with 12 points and nine rebounds.
However, the Aggies would not go away without a fight, cutting the Thunderbird lead to nine around the five minute mark. NMSU made it a thriller at the end, cutting the lead to three with ten seconds left. Senior Harrison Butler put the game to bed with a made free throw. The Thunderbirds won 79-75.
Notable performers for SUU include senior Tevian Jones, who scored 20 points, Healy, who racked up 11 points, and senior Maizen Fausett, who brought down five rebounds and earned 10 points.
SUU versus University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
The Thunderbirds entered this matchup riding a wave of momentum after a historic win over NMSU. Offense was the name of the game early with both teams getting out to quick starts. Spurgin gave the Thunderbirds a 8-3 lead at the 17:20 mark. The Vaqueros responded with a quick 5-0 run, tying the game at eight apiece.
Both teams exchanged the lead in the middle stages of the first half with neither team missing a beat.
The Vaqueros took the lead to double digits at the eight minute mark after a made three-pointer by sophomore Sherman Brashear. UTRGV led 30-20. The Thunderbirds played catch-up for the rest of the first half, cutting the Vaqueros’ lead to three due to a layup from Spurgin. Spurgin finished the game with 18 points, eight rebounds and five blocks.
The Vaqueros responded with a quick bucket. Butler made a free throw at the line for the final bucket of the first half. UTRGV led 40-36 at halftime.
A different-minded Thunderbird team entered the second half. The Southern Utah offense soared back and took the lead in the 13th minute, the first lead for the Thunderbirds since the early stages of the first half. UTRGV responded right away with a layup to tie. Jones answered for the Thunderbirds with a three-pointer to make it 53-50 in favor of SUU. Jones led the Thunderbirds with 21 points.
Two minutes later, the Thunderbirds extended their lead to seven from a Fausett layup. The Vaqueros answered back minutes later, cutting the lead to 57-55 for SUU.
The last eight minutes of the game were a back-and-forth battle. The Vaqueros led in the closing moments and seemed to have the game with 33 seconds left, leading 79-77. UTRGV turned over the ball with 21 seconds left, and Butler took the game into his own hands, scoring with 14 seconds left and tying the game. Butler finished with 15 points.
Butler forced a turnover, giving the ball back to the Thunderbirds. The Thunderbirds tried a full court pass at the end of regulation but to no avail. At the end of the second half, the score stayed tied 79-79.
An action-packed overtime started with the Vaquaroes scoring first, leading 81-79. The Thunderbirds found the momentum they needed, tying the game at the 3:39 minute mark with both teams at 82. The Thunderbirds started to control the tempo, taking the lead after a layup by senior Dee Barnes. Fausett extended the lead to five for the Thunderbirds with under two minutes to play.
UTRGV cut the Thunderbird lead back to five after a dunk from sophomore John Shanu II, 89-84. Missed shots from the Vaqueros took the Thunderbirds to the free throw line, solidifying the win for the Thunderbirds 94-88.
A notable performer for SUU was Fausett, who earned a double-double, scored 12 points and led the team with 10 rebounds. Allen also finished with a double-double, having earned 11 points and dished out 10 assists.
Southern Utah will face Tarleton State University in the new year on Thursday, Jan. 5, with tip-off at 6 p.m. This is the first of a two-game series between these teams this season.
The game will be held at Wisdom Gym in Stephenville, Texas and will be streamed on ESPN+.
Article by: Anthony Colasuono
Photo courtesy of Anden Garfield