CEDAR CITY- Sitting with a perfect 4-0 record at the America First Event Center, the Thunderbird men’s basketball team will be back at home on Saturday to take on the Central Michigan Chippewas in a matinee showdown.
The Thunderbirds took on the Michigan State Spartans last weekend, and fell to the then ranked No. 3 team in the NCAA 88-63. The Spartans moved up to No. 2 in both polls.
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.
Three T-Birds finished with 12 points in the contest, with Dre Marin, Jadon Cohee and Jacob Calloway all finishing in double-figures. Ivan Madunic also finished with 10 points in the game.
The result moved the Thunderbirds to 5-4 on the season.
Through nine contests, Cohee leads the team in scoring with an average of 17.3 points per game. He’s racked up a total of 156 points over the course of the opening nine contests. He leads the team with 36 total assists.
Cohee also leads the team by a large margin at the free throw line, with 53 makes on 67 attempts. He is tied for sixth in the Big Sky Conference in scoring and sits third in the Big Sky in assists.
Brandon Better is averaging 13.4 ppg coming off the bench for the T-Birds, making him the second leading scorer. Better is seventh in the Big Sky Conference when it comes to triples made with 21.
Jamal Aytes is averaging 13.1 ppg, and leads the team in rebounding with an average of 6.4 boards per game. In total he’s pulled in 58 rebounds over the course of the season. He also leads the team in offensive rebounds with 19.
Ivan Madunic and Aytes are sixth and seventh respectively in rebounding, with an average of 6.7 and 6.4 rpg. Madunic also sits sixth in the Big Sky when it comes to blocks and third in offensive rebounds per game.
The T-Birds rank second in the Big Sky Conference when it comes to scoring offense, with an average of 81.2 ppg. They also rank third in made three point attempts.
Opponent Preview: Central Michigan Chippewas
The Chippewas of Central Michigan will come to Cedar City riding a seven-game winning streak and sitting with an 8-1 record on the season. Central Michigan knocked off Big Sky opponent Montana State 75-48 in early December, and their lone loss on the year came to the Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor by seven.
Through nine contests Shawn Roundtree leads the Chippewas in scoring, averaging 14.7 points per game. Roundtree is just one of three Chippewas that average in double-digits when it comes to scoring, with both Cecil Williams (13.1) and David DiLeo (12.8) carrying a lot of the offensive load for Central Michigan. Williams and DiLeo also carry the majority of the rebounding responsibilities for Central Michigan, pulling in 6.2 rpg and 7.1 rpg respectively.
Chippewa head coach Keno Davis is in his sixth season at the helm of the program, and has his team playing at a high level. He brought a culture of up-tempo basketball that emphasized three point shooting to Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.
SUU head coach Todd Simon has major ties to Central Michigan, as that is where he graduated from in 2003.
Words From Coach Simon
On some of the biggest takeaways from the Michigan State game…
“We’re doing some of the difficult things really well, and some of the simple things we’ve just got to continue to sure up,” he said. “More than anything we just need to put together a consistent 40 minutes because we certainly showed in flashes and for at least a portion of that game that we can play with one the best teams in the country.”
On what he’s seen from Central Michigan…
“They’re a very talented team that’s well coached,” he said. “They’ve made a commitment to defense and they’re a very dangerous team at all five positions on offense. They’re playing really well and they’re a borderline RPI top 100 team, obviously 8-1, and coming in here as a potential contender for the MAC championship, so we’re looking at this as a very significant game for us.”
On what has made the team so effective at home…
“I think our ability to close games has been very good for us, and our team’s poise down the stretch of games when it comes to taking care of the ball, and making plays when it matters most,” he said. “As we continue to get consistent, we’re going to get pretty good.”
Christmas In The AFEC
This Saturday will be Christmas in the America First Event Center. The game will feature fun for the whole family, including an appearance by Santa Claus, free candy throwouts, Christmas music and Christmas decorations throughout the America First Event Center.
It will be the last time the T-Birds play at home until Dec. 28. Start time at the America First Event Center is scheduled for 12:30 p.m.