ST. GEORGE — The SUU Thunderbirds had the lead for the entire game against Bethesda, with the largest lead being 50 points about halfway through the second half. This was SUU’s first official game of the season and acted as a nice tune-up for the long stretch ahead of the Thunderbirds. They play Nebraska, BYU and UCLA over the next two weeks, all of which will be played on the road.
The game against Bethesda got off to a quick start, with SUU showing a full-court press almost the entire game. With that pressure, the Thunderbirds forced 23 turnovers and used their length and athleticism to their advantage. SUU was able to convert those 23 turnovers into 30 points, which played a major part in the Thunderbirds blowout victory.
“We want to be that pace,” head coach Todd Simon said. “We’re always a top tempo team. We’re going to get people on the move and attack.”
The Thunderbirds also attacked in transition, scoring 25 points on fast breaks and 54 points in the paint. Players like Jakolby Long, Dre Marin and Dwayne Morgan also did a great job distributing the ball when they drove to the basket. The team finished with 25 assists on their 40 made field goals.
“We’ve seen these guys in practice,” Simon said. “They genuinely like ball movement and playing the game the right way. I think that’s going to translate because that’s kind of been who we are, it’s not something that they’ve kind of turned off and on. That part is exciting and I think they’ll continue to share that rock.”
John Knight III, transfer from Utah State, had to sit out all of last year. He played for the first time in a while, and had people jumping out of their seats throughout the game. Whether it be the multiple times that he attempted to put someone on a poster or some amazing blocks that were called as goaltending, Knight showed that he is explosive. His ability to attack the rim and his speed in transition are going to be a big factor for the Thunderbirds this season. Simon called him a, “unique talent,” as a shot-blocking point guard.
“That’s my identity, that’s my style of play,” Knight said. “Above the rim, make highlight plays for the crowd. They came out to see a show, so we have to give them a show.”
The game was truly a track meet for SUU. They controlled the pace, saw the mismatches, and attacked early and often. The game against Bethesda was a nice opportunity for the Thunderbirds to see some live game action, but the real test is what is coming up on their schedule.
SUU will travel to Nebraska on Saturday to take on the new look Cornhuskers, with first-year head coach Fred Hoiberg who formerly was the head coach of the Chicago Bulls. They will then travel to BYU to take on the Cougars. The final leg of the tough three-game stretch will be played against one of the most storied college basketball programs in the country, UCLA, in Westwood.
In terms of mentality, Knight said that they want to make it known that they are the best team in Utah. Most of these players have a chip on their shoulder, since they transferred from other schools, and they are trying to prove people wrong.
The Thunderbirds’ game against the Cornhuskers in Lincoln, Nebraska is set to tip-off Saturday at noon. The Cornhuskers lost to UC Riverside by 19 Tuesday night.
“We haven’t done a ton of studying them quite yet, but they’re talented,” Simon said of Nebraska. “It’ll be a tough task, especially at their place on a Saturday afternoon. We’re ready to see where we stack up and see how our system plays out against a team of their caliber.”
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