Utah Tech takes on SUU Tonight in Cedar City
Let's go. Battle for the Pick Axe at 6:30 p.m. Listen on 590 KSUB.
Here's the press release from UT Athletics Media Relations: (link to full article)
Scouting Southern Utah
Thursday's game will be the seventh matchup between SUU and Utah Tech, with the Thunderbirds holding a 4-2 advantage that includes a two-game winning streak. The Trailblazers were victorious, 86-79, at Burns Arena last year, but fell in Cedar City and in the second round of the 2023 Hercules Tires WAC Men's Basketball Tournament.
In year one under Head Coach Rob Jeter, SUU enters Thursday's game with a 5-11 record overall and 0-5 record against WAC competition, most recently falling at home to SFA by two points. Four players are averaging 13 or more points, led by Dominique Ford's 15.4 points per game. The T-Birds are in the top half of the WAC for overall team shooting percentage at 43.9 while converting 73.5% of free throw attempts, good for third-best among WAC teams.
Protecting Home Court
Utah Tech was victorious in its lone game of the previous weekend, defeating SFA 75-70 in front of 1,658 fans at Burns Arena. A game of runs, Utah Tech opened the game by out-scoring the Lumberjacks 14-3 before the visitors fought back and took a two-point lead into the halftime break. Utah Tech used a 10-0 run mid-way through the second half to regain control and a number of late free throws sealed the team's first win in the new year.
He's a Shooter
A key part of Utah Tech's success against SFA was Noa Gonsalves, who hit five triples in the first half alone to finish with 18 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals. With another huge performance from range, Gonsalves now has 36 made threes this season, good third in the WAC while sitting behind Cam Tyson (Seattle U - 46) and Dominique Daniels Jr. (California Baptist - 39) - though his 41.4 connection rate leads all players with 30-plus made three-pointers this season.
Hamed Olayinka had one of his best performances in a Utah Tech uniform on Thursday to finish with a line of 13 points, five rebounds, three steals and three blocks across 21 minutes played. The Los Angeles, Calif., native used a number of big dunks to score eight points during that 10-0 Utah Tech run to stave off the SFA attack.
His three-block performance increased his season total to 28, making him one of just four players in the WAC with 28 or more blocked shots this season, also making Utah Tech the only team with at least two players in the top-five as Tanner Christensen has blocked 30 shots this season.
Attack the Gaps
Against a Stephen F. Austin defense that liked to put high pressure on the Trailblazers, Unisa Turay stepped up in a big way, finishing with eight points, three assists and two steals across 18 minutes of action. Using a quick first step to blow past defenders, Turay found himself at the like early and often, finishing 6-8 (75.0%) from the charity stripe.
He's played in all but one game this season, averaging 12.3 minutes per contest.
Jaylen Searles had an efficient and effective game against the Lumberjacks on Thursday. Across 27 minutes played out of the starting five, Utah Tech's 6-8 forward finished with a stat in each of the five major categories, recording eight points along with five rebounds, one assist, one block and three steals, while shooting a perfect 2-2 from the field (2-2 3PT) and 2-2 at the line.
Currently third on the roster for minutes played per game (28.3), Searles has averages of 8.4 points, and 5.1 rebounds per game this season.
With a career-high six assists against SFA, Tanner Christensen played a big role in the Trailblazers' 75-70 win. The Spokane Valley, Wash., native finished the game with seven points, seven rebounds, six assists, one steal and three blocks, shooting 1-2 from the field and 5-6 at the line.
The 6-10 big man's run of key rim defense continued, as his three-block effort marked the sixth time in his last seven appearances that he's finished with three or more swatted shots, and he now ranks second in the WAC for total blocks (30) and average (1.88).
Throughout the first half of Thursday's win, Beon Riley hit a number of key turnaround jumpers to settle the Utah Tech offense, including shots that both tied and took the lead back. When all was said and done, Riley completed his team-leading 11th double-digit scoring performance of the season, finishing with 10 points and four assists on 4-7 shooting.
The 6-6 guard/forward is shooting 49.1% from the field and 45.8% from deep this season on his way to a line of 10.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game.
Clutch Free Throws
Though the team has struggled at times from the line, Utah Tech used a number of clutch free throws to seal Thursday's victory. Searles went 2-2 with 1:13 on the clock to push the lead out at five before Turay's 2-2 effort made it a two-possession game with just 42 seconds remaining. Olayinka also shot 2-2 to make it a two-possession game with 36 seconds on the clock before Christensen also went perfect across two attempts to build out the 75-70 lead with 17 seconds to go.
Utah Tech shot 24-45 from the field against Stephen F. Austin, good for 53.3% from the field. Thursday's offensive performance marked the third time this season that the Trailblazers have shot 50% or better from the field, having done so in wins over California Baptist (Dec. 6) and Lake Erie College (Nov. 18).
With a greater percentage of shot attempts turning into made buckets, Utah Tech also finished with 17 assists, tied for second-most in a single game this year, just behind the season-high 18 assists that were dished out in an overtime win over Florida International on Dec. 30.
The Trailblazer defense had a strong outing against SFA, pressuring the Lumberjacks into 17 total turnovers thanks to 13 steals and eight blocks. The steal total tied a season-high mark while coming within one block of the team's season-best mark of nine.
After heading north to face Utah Valley on Saturday, Utah Tech will be in Texas for its next weekend of action, facing Abilene Christian (Jan. 25, 6 p.m. MT) and Tarleton State (Jan. 27, 6 p.m.).
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Gallery Credit: Chris Cardenas