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CEDAR CITY -- Ray Jones scored 18 points and Kyle Davis added 16 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Thunderbird men's basketball team to a 77-68 victory over North Dakota State, giving SUU its first conference win of the season.
"This is right up there with the best Christmas presents," Davis said. "We've had a really tough season so far, we just worked so hard this week in practice — this win means a lot."
The T-Birds (4-9, 1-2 Summit League) led 38-33 at halftime and extended its lead to as much as 13 points in the second half. SUU never trailed in the second half.
The T-Birds came out of halftime on a 10-3 run in the opening three minutes of the second half to separate themselves from the Bison (8-6, 1-2 Summit League).
NDSU roared back to close its deficit to 58-56 with 4:49 remaining in the game but SUU used turnovers and free throws to bounce back.
Jones nearly iced the win with a spectacular break-away dunk after Damon Heuir stole the ball with 1:37 left in the second half. The dunk gave the T-Birds a 68-60 lead.
"In my mind (that dunk) solidified (the game)," Jones said. "We had been beating them the whole game and I knew if we got that one backbreaker play, their eyes were gonna get wide and then started forcing shots."
The Bison missed their final four shots from the field, which allowed SUU to secure the win from the free throw line.
The T-Birds shot 48 percent from the floor and allowed NDSU to shoot just 27 percent from behind the 3-point line. The Bison entered the game leading the country in 3-point shooting, firing 43 percent from downtown on the season.
"I thought defensively we played hard," head coach Roger Reid said. "This team is leading the nation in 3-point shooting and we held them to 27 percent and 3-for-10 in the second half. I thought defense made the big difference tonight."
SUU committed a season-low 10 turnovers and forced 19 NDSU turnovers. The T-Birds compiled 17 assists and eight blocks in the game. SUU entered the game averaging 17.5 turnovers per game through the first 12 contests.
"When coach told us (about the 10 turnovers), I think we exploded maybe even more than we did after the win," Jones said. "We were really happy about that."
Both teams committed 30 fouls in the game, but no SUU player fouled out of the game despite four players playing with four fouls.
Matt Massey added 14 points and four rebounds for the T-Birds, which snapped an eight-game losing streak to Division-1 teams.
Jackson Stevenett contributed with eight points on 4-for-4 shooting, while Heuir, Jake Nielson and Ryan Brimley combined for 17 points, eight assists and just three turnovers.
Michael Tveidt led NDSU with 16 points. The Bison shot 36 percent from the field in the loss.
The Bison have now lost back-to-back conference games after falling to Missouri-Kansas City 75-73 Tuesday.
SUU will return to the court Saturday against South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits defeated UMKC 91-71 Thursday at Kansas City, Mo.
"(SDSU) plays a lot like North Dakota State," Reid said. "North Dakota State beat them earlier this season at their place, but that's because from top to bottom this league is very strong. We have to be ready to play."
Tipoff against the Jackrabbits is slated for 7 p.m. inside the Centrum Arena.
"We need to start a run," Jones said. "We've been playing well against great competition, but it's time for us to put some W's on the board. This when right here shows everyone that we know how to win."