From SUU ATHLETICS STRATEGIC COMMUNICATION
PHOTO COURTESY OF BROOKS NUANEZ
RENO — For the second time in the history of the program, the Thunderbird men’s basketball team pulled out a victory in the Big Sky Conference tournament, as the No. 10 seeded T-Birds knocked off the No. 7 seeded Bengals of Idaho State 76-68.
“Last year was the first Big Sky Tournament win ever for our program, and we celebrated,” SUU head coach Todd Simon said. “It was a triple overtime thriller and it was a big deal, but today was very workman like. It was the first of an expectation to win.”
The Bengals started hot, and built an eight point lead with with 7:18 to play in the opening half. That was when the Thunderbirds started rolling, as the T-Birds chipped away at the lead and cut it to just one at the final media timeout of the first 20 minutes.
A pair of Dwayne Morgan free throws tied the contest up at 30-30 with 2:57 to play in the first. That kicked off a 11-0 run for the Thunderbirds, as SUU built up a 39-30 lead with just over 30 seconds on the clock. The run was highlighted by a Jadon Cohee triple, and James McGee drawing a foul and making all three free throws that followed.
The Bengals hit a shot as time expired in the opening half, leaving the T-Birds with a 39-33 advantage at the break.
Brandon Better led the Thunderbirds at the break with nine points.
“Once we settled down, executed and took our time we got shots that we liked and guys knocked them down,” Simon said about the early going in the contest.
Thanks to five from Better and four from Jamal Aytes, the Thunderbirds jumped out to a 9-2 run in the second half. The T-Birds led 48-37 at the first media timeout of the second half.
Unfortunately for SUU, they got a little cold after that point. The Thunderbirds went well over five minutes without a point and the Bengals took advantage with an 8-0 run. That run was halted by a Morgan layup.
Coming out of the under-12 media timeout the Bengals extended their run to 13-1 to cut the SUU lead to two. Aytes quickly answered with a two point jumper to stop the bleeding.
After that point, the Thunderbirds went on a 7-0 run to build their lead to 57-48, and went 6-of-6 from the field heading into the under-eight media timeout where they held a 62-53 lead.
Down the stretch the Thunderbirds made the right plays and hit their free throws to take a 76-68 victory.
“We definitely felt confident,” Better said about the contest. “But at the same time we knew they were a good opponent and we had to bring it. They have outside shooters, so as long as we stopped their outside shooters and stuck to the game plan I felt pretty good about the game going in.”
Better led the Thunderbirds with 18 points, including 6-of-6 shooting from the free throw line. Jadon Cohee finished with 15 points and shot 7-of-8 from the charity stripe.
Morgan finished with a double-double, scoring 11 points and pulling in 10 rebounds.
As a team the Thunderbirds shot 43 percent from the field and 80 percent from the free throw line, including a 10-of-11 line in the second half.
For the Bengals Brandon Boyd finished with 22 points and Geno Luzcando finished with 21 points.
The Thunderbirds will now advance to play the Idaho Vandals on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. MT, and 5:30 p.m. PT.