“It feels great, but we feel like there is so much more to our season,” stated head coach JR Payne. “We keep taking it one game at a time, it helps us to stay focused on the moment.
The Thunderbirds fell behind early after turning the ball over four times in the first four minutes to trail 8-4. Sophomore Lori Parkinson led a quick SUU rally by scoring the first six points for the T-Birds before Marquelle Funk dropped in three from the corner to give her team a 9-8 edge.
Montana State pulled ahead with baskets from Jackie Elliott and Alexa Dawkins halfway through the period, but Hailey Mandelko evened things up at 16-16 with a three from the wing. Parkinson gave the lead back to SUU after grabbing an offensive board and going up strong to earn a trip to the foul line.
The T-Birds created some space by scoring nine straight around the five-minute mark to pull ahead 30-20. Mandelko capped the streak with back-to-back threes to extend the advantage to ten.
The Bobcats picked up late scores from Kayla DeWit and Ausha Cole to narrow the deficit, but a jumper by a Desiree Jackson had Southern Utah up 32-24 at the end of the opening period.
Parkinson posted 12 points and six rebounds over the first 20 minutes while Mandelko dropped in three triples. SUU outrebounded the Montana State by a count of 24-19 during the half and held the visitors to 28.6 percent shooting.
The difference quickly grew to 39-26 in the second period after Funk and Ashleigh Munns each sank a 3-pointer in the first two minutes out of the break. Funk added another three points by taking a steal to rim for a layup and a foul to extend the Thunderbird lead to 45-30.
Montana State battled back by outscoring Southern Utah 12-4 over a four-minute stretch to cut the difference to five at 55-50. Margreet Barhoum and Ashley Brumwell each turned in four points during the rally.
“For that stretch they hit a couple of threes and just kept getting to the free throw line,” commented Payne. “We weren’t defending, we weren’t moving our feet the way we needed to, therefore we reaching and fouling.”
Mandelko got the SUU offense going again with her fourth three of the afternoon, and pivotal free throws from Parkinson and Marissa Robbins had the lead back up to nine with just over a minute to play.
Barhoum hit a three for the visitors in the closing moments, but a few more shots at the foul line for Mandelko and Parkinson set the final tally at 70-60 in favor of Southern Utah.
The Thunderbirds scored a total of 25 points on free throws in the game while Montana State finished 19-24 at the line. SUU held a narrow rebounding edge of 41-38, and the Bobcats led by a slim shooting margin of 35.2 percent to 33.9 percent. The T-Birds were able to capitalize on 18 MSU turnovers for 24 points.
“Marquelle is extremely versatile. She’s not the biggest girl in the world, but she is definitely one of the toughest players on our team,” explained Payne. “She is able to go down with some of the best post players in the league and hold her ground down there.”
Funk’s final stat line helped the Thunderbirds improve to 11-0 this season when a player records a double-double. The junior forward also had five assists and three steals in the contest. Parkinson scored a game-high 20 for SUU and Mandelko added another 14. Dewit and Barhoum each scored 11 for Montana State.
Southern Utah closes out the regular season next week by hosting North Dakota on Thursday at 5:00 p.m. and Northern Colorado on Saturday at 7:30. Both games will be paired with home contests for the men’s team and have significant postseason implications as SUU looks to catch Big Sky leader North Dakota. Coverage of Thunderbird basketball is available online at www.suutbirds.com.