FT. WAYNE, Ind. — Jackson Stevenett scored 19 points and pulled down seven rebounds but Southern Utah showed the effects of eight days on the road Tuesday night as IPFW claimed a 79-58 win over the Thunderbirds. The loss snapped SUU's modest three-game winning streak and dropped them to 2-2 in Summit League play (7-7 overall) while IPFW improved to 2-3 in league play (8-6 overall).
Coming off perhaps their best game of the year in a 91-77 win last Friday at UMKC the Thunderbirds struggled, particularly down the stretch, committing 17 turnovers, finishing out a season-low seven assists and losing the rebound battle 34-27. The 58 points are SUU's second-lowest total of the season.
After shooting 53 percent in the first half, the Thunderbirds finished at 44 percent (20-of-45). SUU also had its worst free throw shooting performance in the last seven games, hitting just 18-of-26 attempts (69 percent), marking the first time the team has been below 70 percent since the Southern Virginia game on Nov. 23.
"I thought we came out and had heavy legs, we were a step slow, our legs were not there," SUU coach Roger Reid said. "The guys were trying, the guys played hard, but sometimes the travel shows up and I think it did tonight. We got two wins on this road trip though, and although we're disappointed to lose tonight, we lost to a good team that really played well against us tonight. ?
"We rarely get out-rebounded and tonight we just weren't able to keep up on the boards," Reid said. "I think our foul troubles also had something to do with being a tired team."? The Thunderbirds' only lead came after Matt Massey scored inside to give SUU a 2-0 advantage. The Mastodons scored the next seven points, however and although the biggest IPFW lead in the period was nine the Thunderbirds weren't able to get back within three in the rest of the half. IPFW took a 36-29 lead into the break.
Frank Gaines scored on a put-back to give IPFW a 38-29 lead early in the second half but the Thunderbirds battled back to pull within 42-39 on a 3-point play by Damon Heuir. The Mastodons pulled away, however, pushing the advantage back to nine at 50-41 on a Justin Jordan layup at the 11:11 mark.
Two minutes later Jordan hit a 3-pointer to push the IPFW advantage to 55-45 and the Thunderbirds were not able to get back within single digits.
In addition to his 19 points Stevenett pulled down a team-high seven rebounds, blocked two shots and had a pair of steals. Ramell Taylor, who finished with 10 points, was the only other Thunderbird to break into double figures.
Ray Jones was whistled for his second foul with 14:18 to play in the first half and the Thunderbirds down 9-6 but when IPFW built a 19-10 lead Reid opted to return Jones to the floor. The strategy backfired, however, as less than 30 seconds after re-entering, Jones picked up his third foul with 8:29 remaining in the first half. Jones wound up with a season-low one assist.
With Jones — who was 24th in the nation in assists heading into the game — on the bench, SUU managed just three assists in the first half, two by Heuir who picked up his third foul with under two seconds to play in the period.
"Jackson had a good game but we really missed Ray (Jones, Jr.), who picked up three fouls in the first half," Reid pointed out. "We really miss Ray when he's not on the floor and that was evident in the first half."
WYOMING 76, UTAH VALLEY 70: At Orem, Keith Thompson's potential go-ahead bucket was waived off with 10 seconds remaining and Wyoming iced the game at the free-throw line as UVU dropped a tight one in front of a season-high 6,556 fans.
"I like the way we competed. I like the way stayed with the game and the way we kept fighting," said UVU head coach Dick Hunsaker. "We had to come up with a plan that we thought would give us the best opportunity to win and we played well enough to win the game, it just didn't happen."
Trailing 68-61 with just 4:01 remaining in regulation, the Wolverines (7-10) put together a late surge to recapture the lead from the Cowboys (13-2). Two sets of free throws from Holton Hunsaker and Alfonzo Hubbard pulled UVU to within three at 3:19.
UW's Leonard Washington made a free throw to push the lead back to four, but Isiah Williams would score five consecutive points to give the Wolverines their first lead since the 19:06 mark earlier in the half.
Williams pushed the ball up the floor after Washington missed his second free throw, and buried an NBA-range three to cut the deficit to just one at 69-68. UVU forced a turnover on their next defensive possession, and it was Williams again, knocking down a leaner in the lane to push the Wolverines ahead 70-69 with 1:55 to play.
Both teams failed to score on their subsequent possessions, but UW found Washington in the post for a layup with just 34.5 seconds remaining to reclaim the advantage, 71-70.
With the shot clock off, UVU worked the ball in the offensive zone for a final shot until, attacking from the wing, Thompson drove hard to the hoop and rose to attempt a layup while colliding with Washington near the rim. Thompson's finger roll dropped in, but was waived off as he was whistled for an offensive foul, returning possession to Wyoming with just 10 seconds on the clock.
The Cowboys would close out the game at the free-throw line to capture a 76-70 victory.
Despite the loss, the Wolverines became the first team all season to eclipse 60 points against Wyoming, which entered the contest ranked third nationally in scoring defense.
Williams' 23 points on 8-of-16 shooting, including a 5-for-7 performance from three, led all scorers in the game. Thompson scored 13 points, while Ben Aird and Hubbard each added 10 to round out UVU's double-digit performers. Geddes Robinson also snatched a game-high 11 rebounds.
Hunsaker went 6-for-6 from the foul line to extend what is now his career-long streak for consecutive free throws made to 39. The streak is the second longest in school history (Ryan Toolson, 52).
Francisco Cruz scored 21 points to lead Wyoming.
UVU returns to action on Saturday when it plays host to the Seattle University Redhawks for a 7 p.m. contest in the UCCU Center. The game is the first in a home-and-home series between UVU and SU, with the Wolverines traveling to Seattle for the return leg next Friday.