CEDAR CITY — The SUU Thunderbirds welcomed in the Idaho State Bengals on Saturday night for their second Big Sky conference game of the week and won 80-75. The first half was back and forth until SUU went on a run going into halftime, giving the Thunderbirds an 11 point lead. They would extend that lead to 18 with only eight minutes left in the game but Idaho State hit some threes to go on a late run. Regardless of the run, SUU was able to pull out the home win over the Bengals.
“They wanted to win so bad,” SUU coach Todd Simon said of the Thunderbirds game on Thursday against Weber State. “They wanted it almost so much that once those balls didn’t fall they put a lot of pressure on themselves Thursday then the next thing you know you’re down. We didn’t get too high or too low after that game it’s one of those deals where they looked at it and said, ‘we have to regroup and stay solid.'”
They did just that on Saturday night shooting 50% from the field and just over 41% from three. A big reason was Cameron Oluyitan, who had a game-high 23 points while going 7-16 from the field.
“We knew we had to get this one after letting the one on Thursday slip,” Oluyitan said. “Like we always talk about we’ve got to string these along. We know we’re going to come out hard the game after we lose so we just have to keep the streak going.”
In the first half, Idaho state scored 26 points in the paint but only scored 12 in the paint for the second half.
Andre Adams and Dwayne Morgan got in foul trouble, and with David N’Diaye out they didn’t have many options. But Harrison Butler rose to the challenge.
Simon went with a smaller lineup, putting Harrison Butler in at the four spot and sometimes he even played center.
“He just did a phenomenal job, obviously he gets a double double and he gets his hands on balls,” Simon said of Butler. “He’s strong, he’s hard to move and he fronted like we asked him to do so he stepped up. That’s kind of the nature of this team, different guys step up at different times and you never know who it’s going to be but you adjust. The group just wants to win.”
Butler’s versatility is a huge asset for the Thunderbirds. While playing power forward and center he also brought the ball up the court in transition and was able to attack from the perimeter and the post. He finished the game with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
“Post defense is a huge emphasis for us,” Butler said. “We came out in the second half and we focused on it, we made the guards help a little more so it definitely helped our bigs a lot.”
Where the game shifted late was from beyond the arc. Idaho State went 0-6 from three in the first half and it looked like that would continue but they were able to start hitting them, which led to the late push. The Bengals went 7-17 from deep in the second half and that is what helped them get back into the game after being down by 18 with eight minutes left.
“What’s interesting is on the road, we have been able to turn those into large leads,” Simon said of SUU’s inability to close out games. “Charleston Southern, Long Beach, Idaho and a few of these other games we’ve been able to extend that. I think we just got a little loose with it but I think it’s something we’ve got to keep learning how to close it out.”
With the win SUU moves to 13-8 overall and 6-4 in conference. The Thunderbirds host Northern Colorado and Portland State on Thursday and Saturday for another weekend of Big Sky Basketball.
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