The Southern Utah University men’s basketball team took one win and one loss in their two-game road trip to Texas. On Jan. 5, they lost to Tarleton State University 68-65, and on Jan. 7, they beat Abilene Christian University 74-72. This gives the Thunderbirds a 11-5 overall record and a 3-1 conference record.
Versus Tarleton State
In the first-ever matchup between the two teams, the Tarleton State Texans handed the Thunderbirds their first conference loss of the year. The Tarleton State took control in the first half and held the lead until the last four minutes. The final minutes of the first half had six lead changes before the Texans took the lead by one heading into halftime. They came out dominant in the second half and went on an 11-point run before the Thunderbirds had the chance to score. The Texans led by as many as 12 before SUU made a promising comeback. After SUU missed what would have been a game-tying three as time expired, Tarleton State came away with their second Western Athletic Conference victory.
Southern Utah had sophomore guard Drake Allen, fifth year forward Maizen Fausett, and sophomore center Jason Spurgin all score double-digit points. Allen and Fausett each scored 14 while Spurgin scored 11. Fifth year Harrison Butler was also a big contributor for the team with his seven assists and seven rebounds. SUU’s greatest strength was near the basket, as they scored 34 points in the paint. As a team, they shot 44.2% from the field and 30% from three-point range.
Tarleton State’s key to victory was keeping SUU’s Tevian Jones at bay. Jones, who was 20th in the nation in points per game entering play, was allowed nine points and just three field goals. The Texans found the bulk of their offensive success in their bench players. They had 38 bench points, including 20 from sophomore forward Garry Clark. Twelve of Clark’s points came from three-point range. As a team, they shot 43.6% from the field and 53.3% from beyond the arc.
The Texans have taken a loss against Sam Houston University since the game against Southern Utah, and their conference record now stands at 2-2 with a 8-8 overall record.
Versus Abilene Christian
The Thunderbirds were able to bounce back after their loss to defeat the Abilene Christian Wildcats. The first half had them struggling, even trailing by double digits in the last few minutes. The score was 30-25 in favor of Abilene Christian as the game headed to halftime. SUU fought back, and seven minutes into the second half, they took the lead. They held on just enough to ultimately give themselves the two-point win.
After being stifled against Tarleton State, Jones responded with a strong performance. He put up 28 points, making nine of 12 from the field and four of six from three-point range. Allen also had an impressive showing, earning his second double-double of the season with 10 points and 11 rebounds. His rebound total was a career high for him, even dating back to his two seasons with Snow College. Collectively, SUU shot 55.8% from the field and 36.4% from behind the three-point line.
The Wildcats’ downfall was being a little too trigger-happy. As a team, they attempted 63 total shots and only made 39.7% of them. This also gave extra defensive rebounds to the Thunderbirds, which allowed them to outrebound the Wildcats 41-24. Abilene Christian did succeed in taking the ball away, though, as they had 11 steals and forced 21 total turnovers. Their 20 points off turnovers are what kept them in the game. The match was Abilene Christian’s second WAC loss, moving their conference record to 1-2 and their overall record to 9-7.
The SUU basketball team will return home for their next game, a conference matchup against the Sam Houston Bearkats. The game will take place on Jan. 12 in the America First Event Center at 7 p.m. MST. It can be streamed on ESPN+.
Story and photos by: Anden Garfield