Game Recap

Late free throw lifts T-Birds past Montana


John Knight III took a vicious fall, hitting his head and his shooting (right) shoulder violently on the floor, a perfect example of the aggression the Southern Utah senior guard attacked the rim from start to finish on Thursday night in Cedar City.

Knight didn’t miss much time despite the spill, reentering the game just moments later and continuing to lead his Thunderbirds to a second straight impressive win over the Montana Grizzlies.

The visiting Griz, a team flush with new faces and unproven rotations, struggled to close out the hosts despite building a double-digit lead in the first half and spending more than 31 minutes in the lead.

Instead, Knight’s free throw with 2.6 seconds remaining gave Southern Utah a 64-63 victory. Knight, a former Utah State transfer, finished with 21 points, nine rebounds and three assists to lead the Thunderbirds to a win in the Big Sky Conference opener for both teams.


“We are not where we normally would be when it’s time for conference play,” Montana seventh-year head coach Travis DeCuire told Riley Corcoran of the Grizzly Radio Network following UM’s first loss to open Big Sky play, snapping an 11-game streak in league openers for Montana. “You would’ve hoped we would’ve had a closed-door scrimmage, which that got cancelled. You would’ve hoped to have maybe an exhibition game so you could see some guys play under the bright lights and then you make some adjustments.

Montana forward Michael Steadman (1) fights through Southern Utah defenders Thursday/by Southern Utah Athletics

“We are figuring stuff out live and when it’s your second outing and it’s conference, that’s tough.”

Southern Utah spoiled Senior Night for Sayeed Pridgett, Kendal Manuel and Jared Samuelson last March, handing the Griz an 85-80 overtime loss in Missoula in the regular-season finale for both teams. The Big Sky and NCAA Tournaments never happened, meaning each team had to wait 276 days for the rematch.

Thursday, Montana jolted out to a 22-11 lead with eight minutes, 23 seconds left in the first half. The visitors limited the hosts to 9-of-27 shooting in the first half and the struggles carried over to the free throw line. The Thunderbirds shot just 32.7 percent overall, including missing 15 of their 21 3-point attempts. And SUU missed 14 free throws while making 40 trips to the stripe, including 30 attempts in the second half alone.

Knight and energetic sixth man Harrison Buttler each missed five free throws but still managed to score 15 points from the free throw line combined. And the T-Birds snared 13 offensive rebounds, including a pair in the final 90 seconds that helped Southern Utah flip control of the game and gut out the victory.

The Thunderbirds exploited Montana’s inexperience, particularly in executing late-game situations, owning the last two minutes, particularly the last 48 seconds of the game.

With his team trailing by a point, SUU senior Ivan Madunic missing a 3-pointer but Knight grabbed the offensive rebound, the third of the evening for the native of Jackson, Mississippi. That second chance led to senior point guard Dre Marin hitting one of two from the stripe to tie the game at 59 with 1:24 left.

Montana true freshman Brandon Whitney, who scored 17 points in 34 minutes off the bench in UM’s 76-62 loss at USC on Saturday, made his first start as a Griz Thursday night. His free throw with exactly one minute remaining broke the sixth tie of the game and gave Montana a 60-59 advantage.

Montana junior Mack Anderson was called for a questionable foul while trying to chase Maizen Fausett off the 3-point line on the ensuing possession. The foul disqualified Anderson and sent him to the bench to sit by Michael Steadman, UM’s preseason All-Big Sky senior big man, who managed to play just 17 minutes before fouling out himself.

“The lineups I had that were playing well together didn’t stay on the floor very long because of the fouls,” DeCuire said. “We would start to build a lead or build momentum and two of the guys would have to come out. I had a tough time getting a lineup that could execute on offense or get a rebound on the defensive end.”

Fausett, who finished with 14 points, hit two of his three throw attempts but missed the third. Junior Tevian Jones, an Illinois transfer, tracked down the offensive rebound and the possession led to a pair of free throws from Marin giving SUU 12 second-chance points for the game.

Montana forward Mack Anderson shots a hook shot vs. Southern Utah Thursday/by SUU Athletics

In the span of seven seconds, Southern Utah had turned a one-point deficit into a 63-60 lead.

Montana sophomore Josh Vazquez, who finished with a team-high 14 points off the bench, came off a screen and drilled his fourth 3-pointer of the game to tie the game at 63 with 31 seconds left.

That set up the final possession. DeCuire elected to put Josh Bannan, a 6-foot-9 true freshman from Australia playing in his first Big Sky game, on Knight. The explosive senior winded the clock under five seconds, got into the paint and drew contact. The officials called the foul on the floor but it was the 10th by the Griz, meaning Knight got a pair of chances at the stripe.

He hit the first, missed the second and the ball landed in Bannan’s possession. The Aussie freshman’s last-gasp heave from half court was well short.

“Gotta finish plays and to me, that’s what it really came down to,” DeCuire told Corcoran. “If you would’ve told me we would hold a team to 31 percent (shooting) from the floor and shoot 49 (percent), I’d tell you we won going away.

“Thirteen offensive rebounds is way too many especially when two or three of those are off missed free throws. Those are ends of possessions if we just get the rebound. We didn’t get enough loose balls. We had 15 points scored off our turnovers which means we didn’t transition well.

“It’s the details right now that are beating us. We have to get to where we are not beating ourselves with mistakes.”

Montana forward Derrick Carter-Hollinger (35) squares up vs Southern Utah Thursday/by SUU Athletics

This Griz roster features eight new players and a total of five players —Steadman, graduate transfer guard Cam Satterwhite, junior transfer point guard Cameron Parker, plus Whitney and his classmate Bannan along with returning sophomore guard Eddy Egun— have already made their first starts as Griz this season.

DeCuire played 10 players in the first six minutes at USC. He had gotten nine players into Thursday’s game before it was 10 minutes old and nine Griz scored in the first half to help UM to a 34-28 lead at the break.

The Griz ended the game shooting 49 percent but went just 9-of-17 from the free throw line. Vazquez hit four of his six attempts from beyond the arc but UM finished 6-of-16 from deep. Steadman scored 12 points on 6-of-shooting but has now committed nine fouls in his two games as a Griz, limiting him to 39 total minutes.

Sophomore Kyle Owens came off the bench to score 10 points and grab eight rebounds, but SUU earned a 36-32 rebounding advantage led by Knight’s nine boards and Butler’s eight rips.

Because of the new Big Sky schedule format, the Griz will get a shot Saturday to avenge their first loss in Cedar City since 1999. Tip-off from the America First Events Center is scheduled for noon.

Photos courtesy of Southern Utah Athletics. All Rights Reserved.

About Colter Nuanez

Colter Nuanez is the co-founder and senior writer for Skyline Sports. After spending six years in the newspaper industry with stops at the Missoulian, the Ellensburg Daily Record and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the former Washington Newspaper Association Sportswriter of the Year and University of Montana Journalism School graduate ('09) has cultivated a deep passion for sports journalism during his 13-year career covering the Big Sky Conference. In August of 2014, Colter and brother Brooks merged their passions of writing and art to found Skyline Sports.

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