SUU men’s basketball team beats Montana twice in 3 days

John Knight III of SUU goes up for a slam dunk off a fast break, Montana at Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah, Dec. 5, 2020 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY — Although it had been 21 years since Southern Utah University men’s basketball team had won at home against Montana, the Thunderbirds managed to complete a two-game sweep of their Big Sky rival Saturday afternoon at the America First Event Center.

SUU defeated the Grizzlies 64-63 on Thursday night, then won the second contest Saturday afternoon, again by a single point, 75-74.

Here’s a look at both games:

Southern Utah 64, Montana 63

For the first time since November 29, 1999, the Thunderbird men’s basketball team knocked off the Montana Grizzlies at home, topping their Big Sky foe 64-63 Thursday night.

The Thunderbirds improved to 2-1 on the season and 1-0 in Big Sky Conference play with the win.

With just two seconds left on the clock, John Knight III went to the free-throw line and split the pair to put the Thunderbirds up by one, and the Grizzlies were unable to connect on a halfcourt heave.

“We weren’t hitting shots, and that has a lot to do with Montana doing a good job, but we just committed to getting downhill and forcing the action, spacing guys out and trying to get to the paint,” SUU head coach Todd Simon said following the contest. “Obviously, we’ve got to make more free throws, make more shots, but that’s a very good ball club. For 30 minutes, they were better than USC the other day. That’s a good team, and you beat them by only having nine turnovers and getting 13 offensive rebounds.”

Montana at Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah, Dec. 3, 2020 | Photo courtesy of SUU Athletics, St. George News / Cedar City News

With the victory, coach Simon secured the second-most wins as a head coach in the team’s Division I history at 55.

After Tevian Jones hit a triple to start the game for SUU, Montana took the lead and held on to it for the entirety of the opening half. They built their lead to as many as 11 during that stretch and took a six-point lead into the half.

Dre Marin tied the contest at 40-40 with 14:02 to play in the second half, but the Grizzlies quickly built back up a seven-point lead.

Over the final four minutes, neither team led by more than two, until Marin got to the free throw line with 41 seconds to play to put the T-Birds up three. Montana rescinded with a Josh Vazquez triple, but left enough time on the clock for the Thunderbirds to get to the free throw line and secure the victory.

Knight finished the game with 21 points, nine rebounds, three steals and three assists. The nine rebounds he finished with was also the team lead on the evening.

Maizen Fausett finished the game with 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting.

Southern Utah finished the game 26-of-40 from the free throw line, but made the ones that mattered to secure the victory.

The T-Birds held a 15-0 advantage in terms of points off turnovers. Montana’s bench outscored Southern Utah’s 37-10.

Southern Utah 75, Montana 74

The SUU Thunderbird men’s basketball team moved to 3-1 on the season and 2-0 in Big Sky Conference play on Saturday afternoon inside the America First Event Center, as they completed a sweep of the Montana Grizzlies 75-74 in another close contest.

The game once again came down to the final possession, as the score was knotted at 74-74 with 11 seconds to play. Tevian Jones brought the ball down the floor and missed a three-point attempt, but Nick Fleming was able to secure the offensive rebound and was fouled on the putback attempt which sent him to the free throw line.

Montana at Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah, Dec. 5, 2020 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Fleming hit the first, and intentionally missed the second, making life hard on the Grizzlies who were not able to convert on a heave, giving the T-Birds back-to-back victories.

“As a program, as you build the thing, you go from some lows, and then you start to hope to win, then you want to win, then now we’re at a stage with our program where we’re expecting to win,” Simon said. “That’s what great teams do, they believe. We never really felt rattled, stuff wasn’t going our way and we weren’t playing a good brand of basketball there for those middle 15 minutes, but we didn’t get rattled.”

After going into the calendar year not having beating Montana since the year 2000, the Thunderbirds have now topped the Griz three times in 2020.

Southern Utah started out the game hot, and built up a nine-point lead at 23-14 with 11:02 on the clock. However, the Grizzlies closed out the first half on a 13-0 run to take a 36-31 lead into the halftime break. The Thunderbirds didn’t score for the final 5:33 of the first half.

Montana shot 57% in the first half, while the T-Birds made just 38% of their field goals.

As the second half started, the Thunderbirds were able to embark on a 12-0 run to cut the Griz lead to one at 46-45 with 14:21 to play. Unfortunately for SUU, Montana responded with a 7-0 run of their own after that point, and quickly regained a comfortable lead.

Over the final 10 minutes, the Thunderbirds scraped and clawed to stay in the game, and completed the comeback with 40 seconds to play as Marin hit a jumper to give SUU a 72-71 advantage. That jumper set the table for the T-Birds to go up by three with 20 seconds to go, and led into the final minutes of action that culminated with Fleming sealing the contest from the free throw line.

Marin and Jones tied for the team lead in total points, both dropping 19. Marin nearly had a double-double, securing a career-high eight rebounds from the guard position, along with snagging three steals. Jones had 15 of his 19 points in the second half.

Saturday marked Marin’s 100th contest in a Thunderbird uniform.

Like Marin, Maizen Fausett also nearly walked away with a double-double, scoring 16 points and pulling down eight rebounds. Both were season highs for the Utah native.

With two blocks in the contest, Ivan Madunic is now third all-time in the Southern Utah record book with 88 career blocks, passing Kenyatta Clyde.

Kyle Owens had a big game for the Grizzlies, scoring 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting.

Southern Utah held a 15-3 advantage in second-chance points Saturday, giving them a massive boost.

The T-Birds were able to win despite only shooting 43% from the field, compared to Montana’s 51%. This was done in large part to knocking down 10 shots from behind the 3-point line.

Moving their attention back to the non-conference slate, the Thunderbirds will return to the court next Wednesday in Orem to take on in-state rival Utah Valley University.

Written by BRYSON LESTER, SUU Athletics.

Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.

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

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!