“In terms of the game overall, I felt like Portland did a great job rebounding the basketball and they were really able to get out in transition more than we were tonight,” stated SUU head coach Nick Robinson. “The also did a nice job of executing offensively and we weren’t able to answer defensively.”
Junior forward Cal Hanks sank a jumper from the right elbow for Southern Utah’s first basket after the Pilots had jumped out to a 5-0 advantage. Jayson Cheesman then picked up a block on one end and hit a free throw on the other to pull SUU back within two.
Four quick scores from Portland center Thomas van der Mars led to ten straight points that put the home team up 18-5. SUU broke up the run with a jumper by sophomore Casey Oliverson and Trey Kennedy added a three-point play with a basket and foul in transition to cut the deficit to 22-12 with eight minutes left in the opening period.
The Pilots added to the margin in the closing minutes and would hold Southern Utah to seven first half field goals to lead 38-22 at the break. Portland outscored the Thunderbirds 12-0 on second chance opportunities in the first 20 minutes and held a 26-24 edge on the glass.
“In the first half we did a good job defensively for the most part, we just weren’t able to really put any points on the board,” commented Robinson. “We held them to 38 percent shooting which was positive and the rebounding battle was a little bit closer at that point.”
SUU started the second half with two straight makes on back-to-back layups from Cheesman and Kennedy, but another score from van der Mars pushed the lead to 20 and the Pilots led 62-38 after Kevin Bailey knocked down a pair of free throws halfway through the closing period.
The Thunderbirds shot nearly 50 percent from the floor in the second half, but Portland continued to score the ball well and led by as many as 35 down the stretch before claiming the 86-57 victory.
“Our second half we simplified some things offensively and we were primarily in the zone defense which was effective for certain stretches, but they were able to get comfortable,” explained Robinson. “I thought our second half effort, as well as execution, was much better than the first half.”
Freshman McKay Anderson came off the bench for six points in the second half while Juwan Major was a perfect 2-2 from the 3-point line and finished with 10 points for the T-Birds. Kennedy was 4-6 from the floor for a team-high 12 points. SUU shot 36.4 percent for the game but trailed in rebounding by a count of 47-27. Portland shot over 46 percent from the field and had three players score in double figures. Van de Mars dropped in a game-high 17 for the Pilots who got another 16 from Bailey.
“John Marshall took care of the basketball and had eight assists, Trey played well consistently throughout the night and McKay played solid,” stated Robinson. “With our incoming guys we have been able to see what they are capable of the course of five games, and it is important that guys play to their strengths and continue to have positive outcomes on both ends of the floor.”
Southern Utah is set to play another road contest this week when it visits Cal State Northridge on Tuesday for an 8:00 p.m. (MT) showdown. Coverage of SUU basketball is available online at www.suutbirds.com.