Southern Utah put up with the first five points of the game, including a 3-pointer by Mandelko, who started the day 4-of-5 from the outside. Things went back-and-forth from there until Mandelko sank another three to cap an 8-0 run that had the Thunderbirds in front by five. Marquelle Funk added a jumper to stretch the margin to 30-23 late in the period.
Senior forward Jordan Sullivan got a basket and a foul to cut the deficit for the Griz and McCalle Feller dropped in a three to pull the home team back within one at 32-31. Andrea Jones answered with a three for the Thunderbirds but Sullivan came up with another score in the final seconds to set the margin at 35-33 heading into the break.
Montana pulled ahead early in the second half as a jumper by Kellie Cole brought the count to 46-41. SUU rallied to retake control with six straight points, but the Grizzlies would us a 19-4 run to build a 65-51 lead with 5:17 to play.
Mandelko kept the T-Bird offense going with a jumper and another 3-pointer to bring SUU within 69-62 in the final two minutes, but Montana protected its lead at the foul line down the stretch to come away with the 81-73 win.
The Thunderbirds hit seven threes in the contest, their highest total in their past five outings, outscored the Grizzlies by six in the paint and put up 23 points of off 17 UM turnovers. Montana shot 41.7 percent from the 3-point line and 45.6 percent overall while posting a 41-35 rebounding advantage.
Mandelko’s 27 points were the most scored by a T-Bird in a game this season. The junior guard connected on 6-10 from the outside and went 3-4 at the foul line. Jones finished with 11 points for Southern Utah and Lori Parkinson turned in 10 points on 5-8 shooting. Cole paced Montana with 24 points with Hill adding another 19 for the Grizzlies.
SUU returns home next week for a Saturday meeting with Sacramento State. The Thunderbirds and Hornets will tip things off in the Centrum Arena at 2:00 p.m. (MT) Game coverage is available online at www.suutbirds.com.