From SUU ATHLETICS STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS
PHOTO COURTESY OF MACKENZIE KASPER
RENO, Nev. — For the first time since joining the Big Sky Conference the Thunderbirds will be competing in the semifinal game, as the No. 10 seeded Southern Utah men’s basketball team knocked off the No. 2 seeded Idaho Vandals 92-78.
“We loved our preparation,” SUU head coach Todd Simon said. “It started with the way our guys have carried themselves this week, in terms of focusing on winning and we did it again yesterday. Today I thought we were really sharp before it started, and they executed the game plan to a tee. They shared the ball and made tough plays, and ultimately we wanted to win it on the defensive end but we played a good game offensively in terms of sharing the ball and getting shots.”
The Thunderbirds started the contest on a 5-0 run, and continued to build that lead to 8-2 early on.
Southern Utah was very hot from the field early, as they started 10-of-14 and built up a 30-19 lead that was aided by a 8-0 run.
The Vandals quickly responded with a 5-0, and the two teams went back-and-forth until the score was in favor of the Thunderbirds 40-30. That was when Idaho got hot, as they closed out the opening 20 minutes on an 11-0 run to take a 41-40 lead into the break.
Brandon Better scored 13 points in the opening half for SUU, shooting 3-of-5 from the field and 5-of-5 from the free throw line. Jadon Cohee went into the break with 10 points.
The second half belonged to Southern Utah. With seven minutes to play the Thunderbirds built their lead up to 11, and never looked back from that point. The second half lead got to as many as 14, and the Thunderbirds cruised to their second win in three days in Reno.
Better led the Thunderbirds with 27 points, shooting 13-of-14 from the free throw line. Cohee finished with 20 and Jamal Aytes had 17 points and nine rebounds in the game.
“I think all of us as a team believe in coach’s philosophies and concepts,” Aytes said post game. “We have a new team, everybody knows that, a lot of new faces. But we got to the end of the regular season and decided it’s a new season with this tournament. We have a goal to make it to the NCAA Tournament, and that was a driving force to continue to keep getting better.”
James McGee, who is in his final season with the T-Birds, said he’s looking forward to another contest in Reno.
“I’m just having fun,” he said. “It’s a great group of guys, they deserve everything and these coaches deserve everything and this team deserves everything. We worked so hard throughout the whole year and I think we’re just enjoying the process and I’m just taking it all in, learning from it and will continue to grow.”
Brayon Blake finished the game with 27 points on 11-of-18 shooting.
The Thunderbirds have advanced to play the No. 3 seeded Eastern Washington Eagles, who knocked off Portland State in the quarterfinals to advance.