Stellar defensive night propels Southern Utah past Portland State

CEDAR CITY — Southern Utah came out on Saturday night and responded after losing at home on Thursday to Northern Colorado.

Portland State visited Southern Utah and the Thunderbirds controlled the entire game, setting the tone with their defense in the first half and finishing the game in the second half. The final score was 85-57 in favor of SUU.

Portland State at Southern Utah, Cedar City, Utah, Feb. 8, 2020 | Photo by Ryne Williams, St. George News / Cedar City News

“It was a good bounce back win. This group has shown all kinds of character and the ability to bounce back from adversity,” head coach Todd Simon said. “Today we really focused on defense and that’s got to be our calling card. I think you saw that and we put together a pretty good 40 minutes of it.”

Portland State only shot 13.9% from the field in the first half while going 0-12 from deep. They scored 18 points and the Thunderbirds were up 12 points at the half. The defense slowed down in the second half but the Thunderbirds offense exploded for 55 points, which expanded the lead to 28 points.

A big accomplishment for the Thunderbirds was holding Holland Woods, a top five scorer in the Big Sky conference, to 1-12 from the field. He finished with seven points on the night after scoring 39 points on Montana in their last game. Dre Marin guarded him for most of the night and did a terrific job.

“It’s a team effort,” Marin said. “There’s always one guy who gets seen guarding him but everyone behind me the whole game is talking, letting me know where they’re at and communicating on ball screens. It’s a great team effort on him because that’s a player that requires all five on the floor to slow him down.”

Portland State at Southern Utah, Cedar City, Utah, Feb. 8, 2020 | Photo by Ryne Williams, St. George News / Cedar City News

Portland State put Woods in a lot of pick and roll situations and SUU did a fantastic job of guarding them. The Thunderbirds downed all of the on-ball screens, which means that they forced Woods away from the middle of the floor and toward the big men on the baseline side. It played a big role in how they limited one of the top scorers in the conference.

“We were going to really force it that direction a little extra and I thought we had a little success at least dictating which direction he was going to go,” Simon said. “Credit to Andre and those bigs for having success at doing so.”

One thing that SUU has struggled with through the conference season has been the ability to get back-to-back wins on Thursday and Saturday. They have lost their last four Thursday games and then won the following Saturday game.

Cameron Oluyitan said it’s all about coming more prepared on Thursday and bringing the energy. When they lose on Thursday they tend to play angry on Saturday, which leads to a better performance. Simon attributes it to his team’s shooting.

Portland State at Southern Utah, Cedar City, Utah, Feb. 8, 2020 | Photo by Ryne Williams, St. George News / Cedar City News

“For whatever reason on those Thursday games, we just haven’t made many shots,” Simon said. “You can pinpoint a lot of things but we haven’t been making shots on those days. It’s kind of a strange deal and I don’t know if there’s a rhyme or reason to it but we’ve always been a bounce back team. I think we’ve just got to continue to handle success and string a couple in a row.”

The Thunderbirds now go on the road for four straight before returning home for two games and senior night. When asked about the road stretch, Andre Adams wasn’t worried about it at all.

“Yeah, because we play good on the road,” Adams said. “I feel like we’re more focused and there aren’t a whole lot of distractions. We come out with that focus and mad with that energy. It doesn’t matter where we go, our defense will travel.”

SUU travels to Sacramento State and then Northern Arizona on Thursday and Friday.

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

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