SUU men’s basketball comes up short at the end, falls to NAU

SUU's John Knight III is fouled by NAU's Cameron Shelton in the final seconds of Southern Utah University's loss to Northern Arizona, Cedar City, Utah, Jan. 16, 2020 | File photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY — The Southern Utah University men’s basketball team fell to the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks 75-72 Thursday night.

SUU’s Cam Oluyitan, who scored 22 points in the first half, Southern Utah University vs. Northern Arizona, Cedar City, Utah, Jan. 16, 2020 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

SUU guard John Knight III had cut NAU’s lead to two points with a driving layup with 13.6 seconds left. With 11.9 seconds left and with the Lumberjacks leading 73-71, NAU’s Cameron Shelton then missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw situation, giving the T-Birds the ball back and a chance to tie or win. Knight tried to drive again but was fouled by Shelton.

Knight made the first free throw but missed the second, leaving NAU up one. After getting intentionally fouled again, Shelton made both free throws this time, extending NAU’s lead to three points.

SUU had 4.0 seconds during which to set up a final shot to potentially tie the game, but guard Dre Marin’s heavily guarded attempt at the buzzer fell short.

“I feel like the loss was on me,” Knight told reporters after the game, “because I missed two free throws. I could’ve easily tied the game or even won the game.”

Knight finished with 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the field and 4-of-6 from the free throw line. 

The game had started out slowly for SUU, as the T-Birds managed just one point in the first six minutes of play. SUU was trailing 8-1 by the time Cam Oluyitan’s layup finally broke the ice.

Remarkably, counting that first basket, Oluyitan ended up scoring 16 straight points for SUU, fueling a 16-2 run that took the T-Birds from seven points behind to seven ahead. Following a blocked shot by Knight, Oluyitan swished a 3-pointer to give SUU a 17-10 lead with just under 10 minutes left in the first half.

Oluyitan ended up making two more treys before halftime, finishing the first half with 22 points as the T-Birds led by nine at the break, 45-36.

“We were rolling,” Knight said. “I mean, obviously, we thought that we were gonna win the game.”

Southern Utah University vs. Northern Arizona, Cedar City, Utah, Jan. 16, 2020 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Despite Oluyitan’s first-half outburst, however, he didn’t score at all during the second half.

SUU head coach Todd Simon said NAU made defensive adjustments that made it difficult to keep getting the ball into Oluyitan’s hands.

“We were trying to get him shots and some of the things they took away and a few of those possessions turned into turnovers,” Simon said. “We weren’t able to execute.”

SUU managed to stay in the lead for the first several minutes of the second half. NAU briefly tied the game 53-53 on a 3-pointer by Bernie Andre, who made four out of five 3-point attempts and finished with 19 points.

SUU then scored the next four points to go ahead 57-53 with 10:52 remaining. NAU then went on a 9-0 run over the next three minutes, taking a 62-57 lead on an uncontested dunk by Cameron Satterwhite following an SUU turnover.

During the last seven minutes of the game, SUU trailed by as many as five points. Although the T-Birds managed to trim their deficit to one point on multiple occasions, they weren’t able to regain the lead late in the game. During one crucial stretch, the T-Birds missed a 3-pointer while down three points with 2:10 left, then followed that with three straight empty possessions, including two missed free throws and a turnover on an offensive foul.

‘“Down the stretch, we just didn’t quite have it,” Simon said of SUU’s late-game offensive execution. “I think it was indicative of the game for us. You know, we felt like we’d get what we wanted, but we’d get a turnover on an offensive foul or miss a free throw.”

Simon said inconsistency has always been an issue for the team.

“We have to figure out ways to stay consistent and dig back in.” 

The loss dropped SUU’s record to 10-6 overall, 3-2 in Big Sky Conference, while the Lumberjacks improved to 8-7 overall, 2-4 in conference play.

SUU next plays at home on Saturday against Sacramento State, with tipoff scheduled for 1 p.m.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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