ST. GEORGE — The Thunderbirds men’s basketball team had an extremely tough stretch of games to start the season. They finished their nonconference schedule on a three-game winning streak, with tight wins against Utah Valley and UC Santa Barbara, then traveled to Portland State where they won their first Big Sky game of the season. They are trending in the right direction as they prepare for their Thursday and Saturday home conference games.
The offensive struggles seen toward the beginning of the season seemed to be smoothed out during their four-game winning streak. The 3-point shooting woes disappeared against Long Beach State where SUU went 15-30 from beyond the arc, just two made threes shy of the school record, winning that game 84-63 on the road.
“We knew we had it, and we knew we weren’t what we’ve shown,” head coach Todd Simon said after the game in a release. “But we stayed with it, and stayed confident, and it paid off tonight.”
SUU’s 3-point success showed again in their next game against Portland State on December 30. As a team, the Thunderbirds shot just over 37% from deep, which was capped off by a Dre Marin clutch three with under a minute left in the game. They got the win on the road by just two points, 83-81, to open Big Sky conference play.
Then on defense, the Thunderbirds are only giving up 65 points a game but the real key to good defense is rebounding. SUU does a great job holding teams to one shot per possession with a plus nine rebounding margin. They are currently ranked No. 14 in the nation in the statistic and are the highest-ranked Big Sky team in rebounding margin.
Another thing that has stuck out about SUU is their depth. They have seven players averaging eight or more points, but it seems as if any one of those players can go off for 15 or more if they have a good night.
Cam Oluyitan has been consistent, leading the team in scoring with 13.8 points per game, and had 24 against Portland State. John Knight III is one of the most explosive players in the Big Sky and his ability to get to the rim and finish through contact have helped as well. Don’t forget about Dwayne Morgan though, his length and smooth style of play only add to the firepower.
Maizen Fausett, Harrison Butler, Dre Marin and Jakolby Long round out the top seven scorers but Damani McEntire and David N’Diaye also play a big role without the flare on the stat sheet.
No doubt it was a rough road to their first conference home games, but the Thunderbirds have seemed to weather the storm.
SUU takes on the University of Montana on Thursday at 7 p.m. and then Montana State on Saturday at 2 p.m., with both games being held at the American First Events Center in Cedar City.
Montana was picked to finish first in the Big Sky preseason media poll and second in the coaches poll, so the Thunderbirds’ first home conference game will be one of their biggest of the year. The Grizzlies clinched an automatic birth to the national tournament last year after winning the Big Sky conference tournament.
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