The Southern Utah University Thunderbirds narrowly defeated in-state rivals Utah Tech University Trailblazers on Thursday in the quarter finals of the Hercules Tire Western Athletic Conference Tournament. Southern Utah won after a resilient paint attack that combatted senior guard Cameron Gooden’s efficient 35-point night.
Southern Utah took the lead early and seemed like they would run away with it. Sophomore center Jason Spurgin attacked the basket early, which put immense pressure on the Trailblazers’ paint protectors. After a monstrous dunk over sophomore forward Trey Edmonds, Spurgin went to the foul line and put SUU up 18-8 with 12 minutes left in the first half. He went 7 of 11 from the field, put up a team-high 18 points and hauled in eight rebounds.
.@spurgin_jason PUT HIM ON A POSTER 🤯🤯🤯
AND 1️⃣#TBirdNation pic.twitter.com/B2wHTQXaVF
— SUU Men's Basketball (@SUUBasketball) March 10, 2023
Gooden came alive and rallied Utah Tech to a 36-34 lead with two minutes left in the half. In the first half, he scored an efficient 20 points and was the Trailblazers’ only player to reach double-digit points for the night. The final two minutes consisted of great defense from both SUU and UTU. Graduate guard Cameron Healy hit a buzzer-beater three that gave SUU a 39-38 lead at the break.
The Thunderbirds were off the mark from three-point territory and shot 4 of 21, but they continued to be the aggressors in the paint. This time it was sophomore guard Drake Allen going to the basket with a head of steam. He would end the night with 13 points, 11 of which came in the second half. Allen also hauled in four rebounds and dished out a game-high seven assists. Alongside Allen, fifth-year senior Maizen Fausett ended the game with 13 points and four rebounds.
Utah Tech was relentless and took the lead early in the second half and gained control of the game. Again, Gooden continued his offensive tirade and scored 15 points in the second half. Southern Utah’s aggressive demeanor forced sophomore center Tanner Christen to foul out with five minutes left in the game, but the Thunderbirds still trailed 68-64. Much like the first half, the two played great defense, but SUU started to heat up. They went on a 6-2 run and were up 72-70 on the Trailblazers with less than a minute left. SUU closed the game out 4 of 4 from the charity strip and outlasted UTU 76-75.
With the win, Southern Utah advances to the semifinals and will battle another in-state rival in the Utah Valley University Wolverines. UVU won the regular season championship but received the No. 2 seed for the tournament. They defeated Tarleton State University Thursday night 72-58.
In a landslide victory, four Wolverines reached double-figure points. UVU’s defense features the WAC Defensive Player of the Year Aziz Bandaogo, who averages nearly three blocks per game. The Wolverines’ offense is led by junior guard Le’Tre Darthard. In the regular season, he averages 14.3 points per game and makes 37.6% of his three-point attempts. His three-point percentage is second to senior guard Trey Woodberry, who averages nearly 13 points per game.
On the season, SUU and UVU have each protected their home courts with one win apiece. The Thunderbirds won 79-67 at home but fell 90-83 on the road for Utah Valley’s homecoming game.
The semifinal game will take place on Friday, March 10, at 9 p.m. MST in the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. It can be streamed on ESPN+.
Story by: Chevy Blackburn
Photos courtesy of SUU Athletics