“We talked about it all week, and up until the last few games we have defended the 3-point line really well so it has been a real focus of ours,” stated Payne. “With them having two of the top five shooters in the conference, it was obviously a big emphasis for us and I though I team did a fantastic job of executing.”
Eastern Washington started the game 3-4 from the field but the Thunderbirds put up six quick points on second chance opportunities and forced four early turnovers to hold an 8-6 edge after the first five minutes of play.
A block by Lori Parkinson of the defensive end led to a 3-point basket in transition for Maylinn Smith to extend margin to 14-8 in favor of SUU. The T-Birds made it an 8-0 run on a jumper from Hailey Mandelko to stretch it to a ten-point lead just past the halfway mark of the opening period.
The difference would grow to 24-10 after two more scores from Parkinson and Mandelko. Freshman guard Bethany Montgomery then put up five quick points with a three from the wing followed by a steal for a lay-in to spark a 10-0 run that brought the Eagles back within four.
Smith sank a pair of free throws for Southern Utah, ending a four-minute scoreless drought late in the half, to set the count at 26-20. Mandelko added two more at the line but Lexie Nelson connected from the outside for Eastern Washington and Hodgins dropped in a jumper to cut the deficit to 30-29 at the break.
Southern Utah shot 34.6 percent in the opening half but outscored the visitors 10-1 on second chance opportunities. Both sides came up with 16 rebounds over the first 20 minutes.
The Thunderbirds got behind the EWU defense for two fast break layups to start the second half but Nelson knocked down another 3-point basket to keep Eagles within one. Marquelle Funk answered with a three of her own to put SUU up 43-39 with just under 15 minutes remaining.
Jade Redmon and Laura Hughes teamed up for six straight points to put the visitors ahead by a count of 45-43 approaching the 13-minute mark. Smith earned a trip to the line to even up the score and Funk sank another shot from the outside to put Southern Utah back in front, 49-46.
The lead went back-and-forth in the closing minutes with the momentum shifting to the Thunderbirds as Desiree Jackson took a steal coast-to-coast and was grabbed from behind on an intentional foul that gave SUU two free throws and a 59-57 edge with less than four minutes left.
Parkinson pushed the margin to three with another foul shot, but a layup by Nelson had the Eagles down by just one. Robbins and Hughes each put in a basket off an offensive rebound to keep it a one-point game and Eastern Washington took the final possession with 22 seconds remaining. The ball was deflected out of bounds on a drive by Nelson to set up one last shot for EWU with three seconds on the clock. Hodgins took the inbounds pass and stepped behind a screen to fire an open jumper that bounced off the back of the rim and Parkinson corralled the rebound as time expired to seal the 62-61 win for the Thunderbirds.
Mandelko scored 15 points to lead four Thunderbirds in double figures as Jackson put up 12, Funk had 10 and Parkinson recorded 11 points and 11 rebounds for her fourth double-double of the season. Hughes posted a game-high 16 points on 6-9 shooting with Nelson and Hodgins turning in totals of 13 and 12 respectively.
Eastern Washington outshot Southern Utah 43.8 percent to 37.0 percent and held a 30-16 advantage in bench scoring but the T-Birds recorded a 38-33 lead in overall rebounding and forced the Eagles to commit 19 turnovers. The game featured eight ties as well as eight lead changes.
“I thought it was a great effort. We had some great production inside, some good production outside,” commented Payne. “People stepped up and did the things that needed to be done tonight.”
SUU returns to the road next week for visits to Montana and Montana State. The Thunderbirds open the trip against the Bobcats on Thursday at 7:00 p.m. before taking on the Grizzlies next Saturday at 2:00 p.m. Coverage of Southern Utah basketball is available online at www.suutbirds.com.