Idaho State jumped in front by a count of 7-0 to start the game before sophomore forward Casey Oliverson dropped in a jumper to put SUU on the board. The visitor’s advantage grew to 15-4 after Bengal guard Chris Hansen put up eight points in the first seven minutes.
Southern Utah charged back as four of its first seven field goals came from 3-point range. The fourth basket came from freshman Taylor Jensen and cut the difference down to two. A pair of free throws by Cal Hanks and a driving layup for John Marshall helped the Thunderbirds close out the period on a 12-4 run to hold a 25-24 edge at the break.
SUU held the visitors to 25.9 percent shooting in the first half while connecting on 38.1 percent of its tries. The Thunderbirds also held an 18-15 advantage on the glass for the period.
“Our guys fought extremely hard in the first half defensively and we were able to climb back in that game,” stated SUU head coach Nick Robinson. “Second half we came out with energy and kept it close, but unfortunately we left the best player on the court tonight, in Hansen, open too many times and he was able to get into a rhythm and that really hurt us.”
Hansen sank another three for the Bengals to start the second half and ISU added two more from the outside in the first four minutes to take a one-point lead. Race Parsons knocked down a 3-pointer for Southern Utah, but Idaho State went up six as Tomas Sanchez scored a layup and was fouled to make the count 41-35.
The Thunderbirds battled back with a 10-4 run, capped by another three from Jenson, to pull within 45-43 halfway through the final period. The Bengals extended the margin once again however, scoring 11 straight points to go up 60-48 with five minutes remaining.
SUU got back within six just after the two-minute mark as Jaren Jeffery hit a shot from well beyond the arc. The Thunderbirds were then forced to foul however and ISU added to its lead at the free throw line to hold on for the 75-65 win.
Idaho State improved its shooting mark for the night to 41.7 percent while the T-Birds finished at 42.0 percent. SUU held a 35-33 edge on the boards, but was outshot at the free throw line by a count of 14-19 to 27-38.
Hansen posted a game-high 22 points for the visitors and was 5-9 on 3-point attempts. Senior guard Andre Hatchett added another 16 points for the Bengals.
A.J. Hess led Southern Utah with 14 points, Jeffery turned in another 12 to go along with seven rebounds and Parsons hit four threes for 12 points.
“I have 100 percent confidence in each of our guys, in their capabilities, in their strengths. That’s why I put them out there,” commented Robinson. “Every game is different. I’m not concerned about starters, I’m not concerned about playing time, I’m concerned about guys coming in and executing offensively and defensively to give ourselves the best opportunity.”
The Thunderbirds conclude their four-game home stand next week by hosting Portland State this Thursday and Eastern Washington on Saturday. Both contests are scheduled to begin at 7:00 p.m. with coverage available online at www.suutbirds.com.