ST. GEORGE — John Knight III’s career-best scoring performance and a key adjustment on defense let the Thunderbirds pull off a come-from-behind win over the University of Northern Colorado Bears at Idaho Central Arena in Boise on Wednesday afternoon, 91-83.
Northern Colorado started hot shooting, building out a 20-11 early lead going 7-for-12 from the field in the first eight minutes and 3-for-6 on 3-pointers. Right around then, Big Sky coach of the year Todd Simon made a decision with his Thunderbirds, shifting his defense into a full press. After that, things took a turn for Southern Utah. The T-Birds took 10 of the next 12 points and tied the game.
“We haven’t used it this year as much as we wanted,” Simon said of the press. “That’s kind of part of our identity. We knew could turn to it and it was going to be a big factor for us here in this tournament and going forward. With our depth, we think we can put a lot of bodies out there so we could hopefully play with a lot of energy defensively.”
That defensive energy turned a nine-point deficit into a 12-point lead by the time the halftime buzzer sounded. The Thunderbirds closed the first with a 20-4 run. They forced the Bears to turn the ball over 12 times in the half, seven of which came in the final six minutes.
Knight scored 18 points in the first half, going 8-for-12 from the field, all inside the arc. Tevian Jones and Maizen Fausett each scored eight.
Knight rattled off 16 more points in the second half bringing his game total to 34, a new career high for him. He set his previous high of 26 in both games last week. The 34 points tied him for the sixth highest individual scoring effort in Big Sky Tournament history.
The Bears started the second half on a six-point run to pull within four but they would get no closer for the remainder of the contest. The Thunderbirds built the lead back out to a game-high, 14 points at the 7:42 mark of the second half. The large margin turned out to be essential, as the Bears whittled back to within four points in the closing minutes. Southern Utah did not hit a field goal in the last 6:55 as Northern Colorado closed the gap.
“It’s a game of runs,” Southern Utah guard Dre Marin said. “That’s what we talked about. It’s going to be highs and lows. We can’t ever get caught up too high, can’t ever get caught up too low. We just did a really good job of staying poised and playing really hard.”
Marin was second to only Knight on Southern Utah with 15 points. Jones scored 13 and Fausett and Marquis Moore scored 10 each.
Knight played all 40 minutes.
“We don’t want to come out,” Knight said. “This is big for us; we’re seniors and it means a lot. You push yourself in the offseason to be prepared for times like this, because you know you’ll need to play 40 minutes. We were well prepared for it.”
Southern Utah will take on Montana State in the semifinal on Friday. Tipoff is scheduled for 5 p.m.
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