Southern Utah has often been dubbed one of the most talented teams in the Big Sky Conference in recent years, but the Thunderbirds hadn’t beaten Eastern Washington in Cheney since 1992.
The Cedar City, Utah, school bucked that trend Saturday at Reese Court.
Southern Utah rode a late 14-3 run and efficient free-throw shooting to hold off the defending Big Sky Conference champion Eagles in a seesaw 99-94 win, splitting the two-game series.
Southern Utah (10-2, 5-1 Big Sky), which saw its school-record nine-game winning streak snapped in a 75-63 loss to EWU (3-5, 2-1) on Thursday, shot 30 for 34 from the line and leaned on the efforts of two transfers.
Former Illinois guard Tevian Jones scored 27 points and former Utah State guard John Knight III poured in 21 points. The duo scored Southern Utah’s final nine points.
“Southern Utah played a great game,” EWU head coach Shantay Legans said. “Very physical, very tough. They beat us in all facets of the game. We take pride in being prepared, and I let the team down by not putting them in the right positions.”
In a game that featured 15 lead changes and 10 ties, EWU senior Jacob Davison scored a game-high 31 points and accounted for eight 3-pointers. The Eagles hit 19 3-pointers, one off the school record.
EWU’s Kim Aiken Jr. added 24 points and 12 rebounds and big man Tanner Groves, who battled foul trouble for the second straight game, had 21 points.
“It was a back-and-forth game and a lot of things we messed up and cost us the game,” Davison said. “(We know) their tendencies but still allowed them to go to their strong hands and points in the paint (a 38-22 advantage), stuff like that.”
A Davison jumper gave EWU an 83-81 lead with 4 minutes, 13 seconds left before the Thunderbirds’ late surge.
The Eagles built a 69-60 lead midway through the second half, but Southern Utah answered with a 12-0 run during which EWU head coach Shantay Legans was called for a technical foul.
Things appeared heated at times and included flagrant foul calls on Groves and Jones in different portions of the game.
“We sent them to the line 34 times, and two of those were my fault because of the technical,” Legans said. “And that’s unacceptable. We have to come out better next week.”
Groves, who did most of his damage in the first half, was hit with his fourth foul with more than 12 minutes left, helping spark Southern Utah’s first big run.
EWU connected on 19 of 43 3-point attempts and shot 43% from the field (33 for 77). More than half of its made field goals were from beyond the arc.
The Eagles shot 9 of 12 from the line.
“We thought we took one heck of a punch from Eastern Washington,” Southern Utah coach Todd Simon said. “They do such a great job, and they’ll be tough for anybody to beat, and our guys just stayed the course and kept battling.”
EWU had ample opportunities down the stretch to regain the lead
Davison hit a 3-pointer at the 1:31 mark to cut Southern Utah’s lead to 89-87.
Aiken fouled a dribbling Knight late in the shot clock and about 30 feet from the basketball on the subsequent possession, resulting in two Knight free throws.
A driving Davison committed a turnover on EWU’s following possession. Knight was fouled again and hit two free throws with 48 seconds left, giving the Thunderbirds a seven-point cushion .
Tyler Robertson had 12 points and five assists for EWU, which travels to Northern Colorado on Thursday.
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