By Tom Zulewski
Iron County Today
If a last name could represent the continued improvement being shown by the Southern Utah men’s basketball team, Brandon Better has certainly lived up to the billing. Facing a team picked to finish at the top of its conference, Better made the T-Birds better when it mattered and gave SUU a key victory.
Better led five T-Bird players in double figures with 26 points, and Southern Utah shot 56 percent from the floor in the second half to beat Long Beach State, 94-89 on Dec. 6 before an announced crowd of 2,487 at America First Events Center. SUU improved to 5-3 on the season and had to hold on after losing all of a 10-point lead inside the final 20 minutes.
“Those games are exciting for us as a program because that’s a good team,” head coach Todd Simon said. “As a measuring stick, it was significant for us. Long Beach played very well, made plays, and we got buckets when we needed them.”
The T-Birds trailed 81-78, but Better fed Dre Marin for a 3-pointer and a Christian Musoko dunk knotted the score at 83-83 with 3:15 remaining. After Musoko was whistled for a technical foul for hanging on the rim, Bryan Alberts (25 points) hit a free throw and Gabe Levin (24) added two more from the line to put the 49ers back up by three at 86-83 with 2:20 to play.
When Better hit a layup with 1:16 left, the T-Birds would take the lead for good and stay unbeaten at home on the season.
“The last four minutes was winning time. Our guys executed and made the right plays,” Simon said. “There was a calm confidence that said ‘we’ll withstand this. Let’s go get another one.’ It was reassuring, a sign of guys starting to have belief and a confidence that winning teams get.”
Jadon Cohee, who backed up Better with 25 points and five assists, said the win had the look of a heavyweight fight, especially through much of the second half.
“We took every punch they hit us with,” Cohee said. “They went up, we went up, we just kept fighting, and when C got the lob, it changed the momentum. We knew we were going to win from there.”
Musoko added 14 points for the T-Birds, Jamal Aytes scored 12 and Jacob Calloway chipped in 10. SUU outrebounded Long Beach, 37-29 and enjoyed a 42-33 lead at the half.
MICHIGAN STATE 88 SUU 63
The Thunderbird men’s basketball team took on the No. 3 team in the country on Saturday, as they went head-to-head with the Michigan State Spartans in a contest the home team eventually took 88-63.
“I’m real proud of my guys,” Simon said. “I thought our guys played really hard, we didn’t quite get enough shots to fall and not enough stops down the stretch, but from a competitive standpoint I’m really proud of the guys.”
The Thunderbirds knocked down the first bucket, and held the lead for the first three and half minutes. As the first half wore on, Michigan State got hot and eventually built their lead to as many as 15 with just about two minutes left in the opening frame.
The Spartans led at halftime 42-30.
It was the second half where the Thunderbirds found their momentum.
With 12:25 to play a two point shot by Dre Marin and a three point field goal by Jacob Calloway cut the Michigan State lead to just five. The T-Birds also cut the lead down to five with 11:04 to play.
The lead stayed right around single digits until the Spartans pushed the lead to 16 with an 8-0 run, and led 74-58 with 5:49 to play. From that point on it was all Spartans, as they took a 88-63 victory.
Marin, Calloway and Jadon Cohee all finished the game with 12 points. Cohee had five assists and four rebounds and Marin had five rebounds and four assists.
Next up for the Thunderbirds will be a home date with Central Michigan on December 16. Tipoff for that contest is set for 12:30 p.m. inside the America First Event Center.