The Southern Utah University men’s basketball team is set to continue Western Athletic Conference play with their two games this week. They will take on Tarleton State University and stay in Texas to face Abilene Christian University.
The Thunderbirds are looking to continue their momentum after an overtime win against the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley on Dec. 31. Their 2-0 conference record and 10-5 overall record have them tied for first in the WAC with Stephen F. Austin and Utah Valley. Of 13 WAC competitors, Southern Utah is the No. 1 offensive team in the conference and No. 12 on the defensive side. Southern Utah is also the No. 2 scoring offense in the nation.
Their scoring has been primarily run by senior guard Tevian Jones with his 20.1 points per game. Jones, who has won the most recent WAC Player of the Week award, is 20th in the country when it comes to points per game. He has a field goal percentage of 40.7% in 214 attempts. He is also the leading three-point scorer for SUU, shooting 38.8% from behind the arc. The Thunderbird offense is supplemented by senior guard Harrison Butler and sophomore guard Drake Allen, as they both average double-digit points. They are also leading the team in assists, with Butler’s 34 and Allen’s 47. As a team, the Thunderbirds are shooting 47.7% from the field and outscore their opponents by 15.5 points on average.
Southern Utah holds their competition to a 43.2% field goal percentage. Part of their defense comes from 6’11” sophomore center Jason Spurgin’s presence in the paint. Spurgin has 26 blocks in 15 games, including two games where he had at least five blocks. The Thunderbirds’ rebounding ability also aids in holding their opponents back. They have outrebounded the opposing team in 11 of their games so far. Butler and Maizen Fausett are the team’s leading rebounders, averaging 6.9 and 6.5 rebounds per game, respectively.
The Tarleton State Texans are 7-7 overall and 1-1 in conference play, which positions them ninth in the standings. They are 10th in the WAC in offense and eighth in defense. They will be looking to get back on their feet after a 69-63 loss against Abilene Christian on New Year’s Eve.
The Texan offense is led by sophomore guard and forward Freddy Hicks, who averages 17.9 points, and junior guard Lue Williams, with 11.7. Williams is also Tarleton State’s best long range shooter and has a 42% success rate from downtown. Graduate guard Shakur Daniel has also pitched in with his team-leading 39 assists through their 14 games. As a team, they shoot 46.8% from the field and 34.5% from three-point range.
Tarleton State is not afraid to take the ball away from their opponents, averaging 11.1 steals per game and 24.4 points off of turnovers. Sophomore guard Shamir Bogues leads in that category with 27 total steals on the season. Though they have not found much success when it comes to rebounding and have been outrebounded in nine of their games, Freddy Hicks leads the team with 6.4 per game.
This will be the Texans’ first matchup against the Thunderbirds.
The Abilene Christian Wildcats are 9-6 with a 1-1 conference record. They are No. 8 offensively in the WAC and No. 5 defensively. They will look to get a winning streak going after defeating Tarleton State and moving up to eighth in the conference standings.
The Wildcats have just two players averaging over 10 points per game with fifth-year guards Immanuel Allen and Tobias Cameron. Allen, who averages 10.9 points, has a 52% field goal percentage while Cameron averages 10.7 and shoots 57.7%. The team relies on ball movement and has five players with at least 30 assists in their 15 games. Senior guard Damien Daniels has a team-leading 53. As a team, they shoot 47.6% from the field and outscore their opponents by 12.1 points per game.
Defensively, senior forward Airion Simmons leads ACU with 12 blocks. Cameron leads the team in rebounding with 5.1 rebounds per game. They have allowed their opponents to shoot 43.8% from the field and 30% from three-point range.
This will be the first meeting between the Wildcats and the Thunderbirds.
The game between Southern Utah and Tarleton State will be on Jan. 5 at 6 p.m. MST in the Wisdom Gym in Stephenville. Southern Utah and Abilene Christian will play on Jan. 7 at 5 p.m. MST in the Moody Coliseum in Abilene. Both games can be streamed on ESPN+.
Story and photos by: Anden Garfield