“A.J. hit some big shots for us down the stretch, Cal and Jayson did a great job in the interior, we had a lot of contributions from our newcomers as well and guys coming off the bench. It was a great team effort,” stated SUU head coach Nick Robinson. “I was encouraged that we were able to come back in the second half and do a better job defensively and scoring more than they did.”
Jayson Cheesman scored a put-back layup to put the Thunderbirds out in front 2-0 in the game’s opening possession, but the Firestorm would pull ahead from there, building a 31-22 advantage on a 3-point basket from Brandon Newman in the closing minutes of the half and held a 40-35 lead at the intermission.
Southern Utah got another lay in from Cheesman to start the second half and a few moments later a basket for Cal Hanks would tip the score in the Thunderbirds favor at 43-42 with just under 17 minutes to play. Things remained close down the stretch, but SUU remained in control and put the game away with an 11-5 run in the closing minutes to pull ahead 85-75. Arizona Christian came up with another three in the final seconds to set the final margin at 85-78.
Hess finished with a game-high 17 points while shooting 5-9 from the field and 2-4 from behind the arc. One of his 3-point baskets turned into an important four-point play that gave the Thunderbirds some breathing room in the second half. All 11 players that saw time on the floor for SUU recorded a score including Chessman and Juwan Major who each had 12 points for the T-Birds.
“We had five guys in the double-figures, a couple of others that were close,” stated SUU head coach Nick Robinson. “I was really pleased with how we shot free throws tonight. 84.6 percent, that was definitely a team effort as we had multiple guys get to the free throw line.”
Southern Utah held a 36-35 edge on the glass and outscored the Firestorm by a count of 42-28 in the paint. The Thunderbirds shot over 45 percent from the field while Arizona Christian finished at 49.1 percent. Robinson improved to 2-0 in home openers after starting last year with a 68-58 win over Carroll College.
SUU will be on the road next week for an in-state matchup with Utah State. The Thunderbirds and Aggies will tip things off this Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. Coverage of Southern Utah basketball is available at www.suutbirds.com.