CEDAR CITY — It is common to see teams working to shake off a little rust in their first game of the season, as was the case with the Southern Utah basketball team who overcame a slow start to pull away for a 16-point win over St. Martin's.
The Thunderbirds struggled in the opening half and trailed at the break but then bounced back in the final 20 for an 86-70 victory.
The first period was virtually level as both teams shot around 50 percent from the floor. The Thunderbirds held the advantage on the glass with 17 boards to St. Martin's 12, but outside shooting and free throws helped the visiting Saints to a 39-34 lead at the break.
Southern Utah came out of the locker room looking like a different team and started the second half with a 12-6 run to take a one-point lead. A fast-break layup by Ray Jones Jr. put SUU up 46-45 five minutes into the second period and SUU would hold onto the lead for the remainder of the game.
Things started to swing in favor of SUU once the Thunderbird offense settled in and began working the ball into the post. Senior center Matt Massey established himself as a dominant presence around the rim, tallying 17 points while shooting 80 percent from the floor.
"Our guys came out wanting to play so well, that perhaps they were trying a little too hard in the start," said head coach Roger Reid. "Eventually we were able to focus in, play better defense and do a better job of sharing the ball."
Ramell Taylor put up 22 points to lead all scorers, his entire total coming in the second half. The senior forward started the night 0-4 from the floor but then made 10 of his final 11 shots. At one point Taylor scored 10 straight points for SUU, capping off the run with a one-handed slam on a fast break. Southern Utah also received impressive performances from Ray Jones Jr. who was 5 of 6 from the field for 13 points and Jackson Stevenett who turned in a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
"Everyone has to play well for us to be successful and tonight we had five guys score in the double figures," Reid said. "We are counting on Ramell to step up and see him as being the key to our season."
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Although St. Martin's had a solid offensive outing, scoring 70 points and shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor, they were unable to keep pace with Southern Utah who ended the night shooting over 60 percent and posted a 74 percent field goal percentage in the second half. The Thunderbirds also won the battle on the glass, outrebounding the Saints 31-24 in the contest.
The Saints' offense featured a balanced attack as four players ended the night scoring in double figures. Forward Roger O'Neill led St. Martin's with 17 points and was 3-3 from behind the 3-point arc while Brok Pendleton was 5-8 from the floor to score 15.
Southern Utah will look for back-to-back victories in exhibition play as it hosts Colorado-Mesa next Tuesday at 7 p.m.