“We improved compared to our last few games. We had a lot of energy, guys did a nice job making plays defensively,” stated SUU head coach Nick Robinson. “Trey played well throughout the night. He took care of the basketball, made good decisions and knocked down some shots.”
The Thunderbirds started the game with a 1-0 advantage on a Kennedy free throw after a pre-game technical foul was assessed to the Highlanders. Junior guard Chris Nsenki then hit his first two shots from the floor to put SUU out in front 5-2.
The lead grew to eight as freshman Juwan Major dropped in a layup to make the score 19-11 near the 12-minute mark, but the Highlanders came back with a 19-5 run to go up by six.
Kennedy put in back-to-back scores for the Thunderbirds, including a one-handed breakaway slam, to bring SUU within two. Nsenki picked up four more points in the closing minutes of the half and Southern Utah trailed at the break by a count of 36-33.
Major earned a trip to the line with a hard drive on the Thunderbirds first possession of the second half and would hit both free throws to make it a one-point game. The Highlanders ran off 13 straight from there however to pull ahead 49-35 with 15:37 remaining.
“I felt like we got off to a decent start, missed some open shots. Riverside made a few adjustments that we had to adjust to, it took us a little bit longer to get comfortable,” explained Robinson. “In the second half we had the drought offensively and we weren’t able to get the necessary stops we needed to keep things close and they were able to get out on us.”
Jaren Jefferey dropped in a hook shot at the 15-minute mark to end the drought after SUU missed its first seven shots of the period. The Highlanders stayed hot, scoring 11 points over the following four minutes to extend the margin to 60-39.
Kennedy paced the SUU offense down the stretch, scoring nine second half points to bring his total for the game to a team-high 15. A steal and transition pass from Major to Jayson Cheesman resulted in a lay-in that cut the deficit to 15 in the closing minutes, but UC Riverside protected its lead from there to come out on top by final score of 74-59.
Southern Utah shot 38.6 percent from the field while the Highlanders posted a mark of 44.8 percent. SUU held a 23-14 rebounding advantage at the end of the first half, but UCR came back to lead in the final count, 36-30. UC Riverside got 20 points from Steven Thornton while Nsenki turned in another ten for the T-Birds.
The Thunderbirds have a break next week before returning to the road for games at Portland and Cal State Northridge in the first weekend of December. SUU will visit the Pilots on Dec. 1 at 2:00 p.m. (MT), followed by a matchup with the Matadors on Dec. 3 at 8:00 p.m. Coverage of Southern Utah basketball is available online at www.suutbirds.com.