CEDAR CITY — Southern Utah held off a second-half comeback try by visiting Montana State-Billings for a 63-60 victory on Thursday. The Thunderbirds (3-1) led by as many as 12 points, but a late rally helped the Yellowjackets (2-2) cut the final margin to three. SUU is now off to its best start under Roger Reid.
Montana State-Billings kept the score close early in the game as the Yellowjackets matched Southern Utah basket for basket for the first eight minutes of the game and held a one-point advantage over the Thunderbirds at 10-9 following a jumper by Jaxon Myaer. A pair of free throws by Ramell Taylor would then start a 16-2 run for Southern Utah, including back-to-back baskets from Matt Massey, that put the Thunderbirds up by 12 at 25-13.
The Yellowjackets would cut the deficit down to three at 28-25 after outscoring the Thunderbirds 12-3 over the next four and a half minutes. Junior guard David Arnold scored six points for MSU-Billings during the run, all of which came on free throws. Both teams made constant trips to the line early on as the Yellowjackets finished the half 10-12 from the stripe while the Thunderbirds were 12-15.
"They got in the bonus early and there was a point where they were only able to score on free throws,"? explained head coach Roger Reid. "We were fouling too often and putting them on the line."
Southern Utah closed out the final 90 seconds of the half with a quick six points to take a 34-26 lead into the break.
The Thunderbird defense limited the Yellowjackets to just eight baskets in the opening period on 22 attempts for a 36 percent field goal percentage. SUU was able to get 16 points in the paint in the first half and eight more on fast breaks to help them shoot 45 percent from the floor. Neither side was able to find its range in the first 20 minutes as both team finished the period 0-5 from the outside.
Southern Utah stretched the advantage back into the double digits on its first possession of the second half as Ray Jones Jr. found Massey for an inside layup to make the score 36-26 in favor of SUU. That lead quickly diminished however as 15 quick points for MSU-Billings to just five for SUU during the next six of the game put the Yellowjackets up 42-41.
"We had to take Massey and Ray out because of foul trouble in the second half,"? said Reid. "That hurt our momentum and let them back in the game."
The remainder of the game was tightly contested as neither side was able to gain much of an advantage. Southern Utah was able to build up a five-point lead after a free throw by Wade Collie set the score at 55-50, but MSU-Billings battled back to tie the game at 58 with under a minute left.
Following a Thunderbird timeout, Stevenett took a pass on the baseline and scored a layup in traffic to put SUU up by two. He then added a free throw on the T-Birds' next possession to extend the advantage to 61-58. Proctor was able cut the deficit back to one for MSU-Billings as he drove to the rim for a layup. On the ensuing possession Jones was quickly fouled by the Yellowjackets to stop the clock and sent to the free throw line where he made one of two attempts to up Southern Utah's advantage to two. The Yellowjackets quickly worked the ball up the court with a chance to tie the game, but Proctor's jumper and a follow by Robert Mayes were both unsuccessful before Jones pulled down the rebound for SUU and was fouled once again. The senior guard hit his first attempt from the line to extend the margin back to three. His second shot was off the mark and MSU-Billings quickly threw the ball up the court to senior guard Myaer with just three seconds left on the clock. The Utah State transfer was able to get off a three before the buzzer but his shot clanged off the front of the rim ending the game with SUU on top 63-60.
"We called Jackson's number and he executed for the basket,"? commented Reid. "In situations like that you want to find players who can make the shot and get them the kind of shot they can make, and in this case we got the layup."
The Thunderbirds were led by senior forward Ramell Taylor who finished the game with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Stevenett and Jones each chipped in 11 for SUU while Matt Massey scored 10. Montana State-Billings saw two players finish in the double figures as Proctor tallied 16 points and Myaer had 11.
Southern Utah will travel north this weekend for a matchup with Utah State. The Thunderbirds and Aggies will tip off on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. The game will be televised on KCSG with radio broadcast available on KSUU 91.1 FM.
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