CEDAR CITY — The Southern Utah men’s basketball team blew a nine-point halftime lead on Thursday against Northern Arizona University and it clearly left a sour taste in their mouths. They welcomed a 3-3 Sacramento State team on Saturday afternoon and came out with energy from the start. Up 15 at the half, the Thunderbirds pushed the lead to 25 and got the 74-49 win.
“Good bounce back,” Thunderbirds head coach Todd Simon said. “We didn’t love our defensive effort and stuff on the glass, taking care of the ball the other night and today we controlled that much better.”
That defensive effort is what stuck out for most of the game. Sacramento State went 4-23 from the field in the first half and 0-7 from deep, which fueled SUU. The Thunderbirds also had seven steals in the first half, which helped them get out in transition scoring 13 points off those turnovers.
It is nothing new for the Thunderbirds, who have prided themselves on defense the entire season.
“We expect to do this every game we got to,” Cameron Oluyitan said. “We let one slip against NAU, left a bad taste in our mouths, so we just told ourselves we’re not going to let that happen again on our home court.”
Sacramento State was ranked third in the nation in points allowed per game coming into Saturday’s matchup. On average the Hornets have only given up 54 points per game. That changed on Saturday when SUU put on an offensive clinic, scoring 74 points.
“We’re finding our rhythm a little bit,” Simon said of their offense. “You saw it these last two games and that was kind of a thing on Thursday, we were scoring. We’ve thought all year long that we’re not what the numbers showed as a shooting team and we’ve hit 19 threes in two games. That’s more representative of who we are.”
John Knight III said that all the pent up anger and energy from NAU led to the offensive performance against Sacramento State.
The energy was not just seen on the court, but also on the bench. The Thunderbirds were dancing and cheering after every made three or dunk. When shots are falling for other players and the energy level is high, the basket tends to get much bigger for the entire team.
“It’s such a confidence and momentum sport,” Simon said. “Know that we are seeing and believing that if Dre is open, it’s going in, if Cam shoots it, it’s going in and we’ve thought that all along.”
Oluyitan mentioned that when his teammates are into the game it’s a big plus. That excitement and energy helps him with his confidence and his willingness to take shots.
Knight III broke down the bench three-point celebrations after the game.
“We got different celebrations for different people,” Knight III said. “When Cam look over there, we’re doing his dance, that’s his dance that he likes to do. We know that makes him feel good on the court and he just wants to keep making it so he can see his dance. We got a different celebration for everybody.”
It was a great effort from SUU all-around, but Oluyitan said this is something they need to continue to do. “This is showing what we can do every game,” Oluyitan said.
The Thunderbirds will travel to Cheney, Washington to take on Eastern Washington University, one of the best scoring teams in the country. It should make for a good challenge against a defensively minded Thunderbirds team.
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