ST. GEORGE — The miracle season at Southern Utah came to an end Friday night as the Thunderbirds watched a lead dissolve late against the Montana State Bobcats. After falling behind in overtime, Southern Utah couldn’t recover and watched their season end in the semifinals of the Big Sky Tournament.
“Obviously, we wanted to end our season on a win but not many teams get to,” Southern Utah head coach Todd Simon said. “Just proud of these guys …. If you would said before the season that this is the ride we’re on with an outright conference championship, we would’ve taken that all day.”
The Thunderbirds held a consistent lead for the majority of the game, but the Bobcats were always close behind. Montana led in the half at the 15:51 mark, but stayed within two possessions for most of the remaining time.
John Knight III hit a jumper to stretch the lead to 10 for Southern Utah just before halftime, giving them what would turn out to be the largest margin for either team in the entirety of the game at 42-32.
In the second half, the Bobcats got within three at the 15:21 mark and it was a rollercoaster from there.
SUU built it back out to five points at 53-48, Montana rubber-banded back to within one. Eventually, the Bobcats broke through.
Amin Adamu, who scored a game-high 29 points, hit a pull-up jumper at the 4:16 mark to give the Bobcats their first lead in more than a half an hour.
They held it for a whopping 82 seconds before Tevian Jones hit a layup and-one to put Southern Utah back in front 68-67 with less than three minutes to play.
Knight hit a free throw but it wouldn’t be until the buzzer that either team hit a field goal as Jubrile Belo sank the game tying hook-shot as time expired, sending it to overtime.
In the extra period, Adamu converted for two points on the first possession and Harrison Butler answered for Southern Utah. Nick Gazelas hit a 3-pointer on Montana’s next possession and Dre Marin, playing in his school-record 120th game, knotted it with a trey of his own.
Butler put the Thunderbirds up with a bucket from the perimeter of his own, giving them a 77-75 edge with 2:25 to go. Belo hit a free throw at 1:51 but neither team would score again until the 19 second mark, when Adamu drew a foul following a defensive rebound and hit his two free throws giving the Bobcats the advantage once again. Belo hit another 1-pointer at the 12 second mark.
Marin committed a passing turnover at the nine second mark and Knight fouled Adamu, his fifth of the game. Adamu landed another free shot to bring the score to 80-77, forcing the Thunderbirds to play for the 3-pointer in their last possession.
Marin let it fly from the right side as the clock ticked down and the ball hit off the glass, off the inside of the rim and out. Maizen Fausett gathered in the rebound but the buzzer sounded before he could kick it back out to the arc.
Southern Utah suffered from tough rim luck late in other instances as well. Fausett had two shots go in-and-out of the basket in the last minute, one on a driving layup and another on a 3-pointer. Each basket would have given the Thunderbirds the lead had they landed.
“It’s going to take some time to let the game go through our heads,” Fausett said.
Fausett led Southern Utah with 22 points. Butler was second with 16, Jones had 15 and Knight had 11 after scoring 10 in the first half.
Southern Utah hit only four field goals in the last 10 minutes of the game, three of which came in overtime. They had only one field goal in the final six minutes of the second half.
It ends a magical season that saw accolades rain down on the program. Southern Utah claimed its first Big Sky Conference regular season title, coach Todd Simon named Big Sky Coach of the Year and Jones becoming the first Thunderbird named to the all-Big Sky first team.
The Thunderbirds will now have to wait and watch to see if they are selected to compete in the NCAA Tournament. That bracket will be released on Sunday.
“We’ve got some things to work on,” Knight said. “We’re going to have some down time and then get back in the gym.”
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