Reflecting on the 2022-23 men’s basketball season

This past season for the Southern Utah University men’s basketball team was one of the highest scoring in recent memory. The Thunderbirds averaged 82.8 points this year, a number topped only once in the past 22 seasons. The 2020-21 season saw the Thunderbirds average 84.2 points, but since at least the year 2000, these have been the only two times the team has averaged more than 80 points.

Only 18 of the 358 teams in Division I of the NCAA averaged 80 or more points this season, and Southern Utah was one of them. They finished No. 4 in the category, trailing only Oral Roberts University, the University of Toledo and Gonzaga University.

SUU’s showtime offense

Tevian Jones, the graduate guard from Arizona, led SUU’s scoring effort. His 17.8 points per game put him in the top 100 DI players and fourth in the Western Athletic Conference. Four other Thunderbirds also averaged double digits. Maizen Fausett averaged 12, Harrison Butler averaged 11.1, Drake Allen averaged 11 and Jason Spurgin averaged 10. Southern Utah had more players average double-digit points than any other team in the WAC.





Sophomore center Spurgin was one of the team’s most accurate shooters, most of his shots coming from inside the paint. He shot 60.1% from the field but did not qualify to be ranked in the WAC or the NCAA because he did not quite average five field goals per game. Jones, however, was ranked, and his 40.7% field goal percentage put him No. 9 in the WAC.

In addition to being the top-scoring offense in the WAC, Southern Utah ranked:

— No. 3 in scoring margin at +8.11

— No. 2 in free throw percentage with 72.6%

— No. 3 in field goal percentage with 46.5% 

— No. 5 in three-point percentage with 35.3% 

— No. 7 in offensive rebounds, averaging 10.68 

— No. 9 in assists, averaging 13.11

— No. 4 in threes made, averaging 8.46

The Thunderbirds put up the second-highest single-game scoring effort with their 126-point game against Bethesda University in November. Only one other team in the WAC beat that total this season. SUU also had the most free throws made in a single game when they hit 43 against Northern Arizona University.

A few Thunderbirds were also highly ranked in the conference individually with some of their offensive numbers. Jones and Butler were both ranked in free throw percentage, with Jones’ 84.4% putting him third and Butler’s 69.1% putting him 15th. Jones was also ranked fourth for his 2.36 threes made per game, and Cameron Healy was ranked 12th after averaging 1.72 per game. When it came to assists, Allen earned himself the No. 9 spot with his 3.68 assists per game and the No. 11 spot with his 1.42 assist to turnover ratio. Spurgin’s 2.46 and Fausett’s 2.38 offensive rebounds per game put them third and fifth, respectively.

Dominating the paint

Southern Utah was not particularly known for their defense this season but had a few impressive conference rankings regardless. They ranked No. 2 in both blocks per game with 3.38 and defensive rebounds per game with 27.89. With 7.24 steals per game, they found themselves No. 6 in the category. All 6’11” of Spurgin collected 1.7 blocks per game and earned the No. 2 spot. Butler ended in second place in defensive rebounds per game with 6.03, while Fausett ranked 11th with 4.35.

Awards and milestones earned

At the end of the regular season, four Thunderbirds were selected for conference awards. Jones made his way onto the All-Conference First Team as the only SUU player represented. Fausett was named to the All-Conference Second Team, while Allen earned a spot on the All-Newcomer Team. Dee Barnes, one of Southern Utah’s contributors who frequently went unrecognized, earned the title of the WAC’s Sixth Man of the Year.

In addition to his All-Conference award, Jones was voted onto the All-District first team by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. SUU falls into district six of the NABC, which includes both the WAC and the Big Sky Conference. Jones was also named one of 30 finalists for the Lou Henson National Player of the Year, which is awarded each year to the top mid-major player in DI college basketball.

Southern Utah players were not the only ones considered for awards, however, as head coach Todd Simon was named a finalist for the Skip Prosser Man of the Year Award. Simon, along with 24 other finalists, were considered for the award based on their on-court success in addition to their overall moral character and integrity.

Four Thunderbirds hit their own career scoring milestones this season. Fausett became one of three players in SUU history to collect 1,500 points as a Thunderbird after playing five years for the university. Butler and Jones fell just short of the club with 1,468 and 1,454 Thunderbird points, respectively, but made their way onto the top five list. Healy, who played just one season for SUU, hit 1,500 career points, though most of them were scored elsewhere. 

One game away

After ending the regular season with a 20-11 overall record and 12-6 conference record, SUU claimed the third seed in the WAC Tournament and earned a first round bye. The tournament kept Thunderbird fans on the edge of their seats the entire time, as the team took two nail-biter wins before falling in the championship game. They eked out a victory in the quarterfinal round when they beat Utah Tech University 76-75 and followed it up with a close 89-88 semifinal win against Utah Valley University. The Utah Valley win featured a 23-point comeback topped off with one the most memorable plays in recent SUU history by Jones. The road to the NCAA playoffs was cut short after a 84-66 loss to Grand Canyon University in the final round of the WAC Tournament.

Postseason play continued for Southern Utah in the College Basketball Invitational, where they took two wins before narrowly taking a loss in the semifinal round to close out their 2022-23 season. After taking down the University of Alabama 72-50 in the first round, the Thunderbirds returned to the close games seen in the WAC Tournament. The next round featured a 81-79 win against Rice University to advance SUU to the semifinals. Southern Utah and Eastern Kentucky University fought it out through double overtime before Eastern Kentucky came out on top with a 108-106 victory.

What’s next

Prior to the invitational, Simon announced his departure from Southern Utah. He will continue his career as the new head coach of the Bowling Green State University Falcons men’s basketball team. He led the Thunderbirds to three consecutive 20-win seasons, which had only been achieved once in SUU history. In his seven years with the Thunderbirds, he amassed a record of 118-96.

Southern Utah has named Rob Jeter as their new head coach. 

“I have some big shoes to fill,” Jeter said. “I would like to continue that tradition of success.”

Jeter comes to Cedar City from Western Illinois University, where he coached for three seasons. In his 25 years of coaching, he has been to the NCAA Tournament seven times, won Coach of the Year three times and led his teams to 20+ win seasons five times.

“We’re gonna play and have fun. It’s gonna be an exciting style,” Jeter said of his play style. “I’m gonna have some guys that are green-light guys. If you’re open, shoot it. We wanna play fast.”

As Southern Utah says goodbye to influential players and coaches, the university will begin a new era of men’s basketball under Jeter’s guidance.


Story and photo by: Anden Garfield