Southern Utah opens home schedule against NAIA opponents

Southern Utah opens home schedule against NAIA opponents

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CEDAR CITY -- The Southern Utah men's basketball team, fresh off its first win of the season, will return to the Centrum Arena for a pair of home games to open the regular season home schedule.

The Thunderbirds (1-2) dropped the first two games at the Rainbow Classic in Hawaii, before defeating McNeese State 68-59.

In the game, SUU sophomore guard Jake Nielson exploded for 29 points on 12-for-17 shooting from the floor to pace the team's victory.

SUU will now return from back to Cedar City from the majestic islands of Hawaii to host the University of the Southwest on Thursday and Wayland Baptist on Saturday, both of the NAIA.

The T-Birds may be without early star Matt Massey after the sophomore forward injured his ankle during the team's win over McNeese State Monday.

Head Coach Roger Reid was unable to be reached about the status of Massey's injury, but Massey was absent during practice Wednesday. However, his injury hasn't appeared too serious enough to affect him throughout the season, especially because he returned to contribute in the win against the Cowboys.

Massey has averaged a double-double through the first three games with 10.7 points and 10 rebounds per contest, which is third and first for the team in each category in respective order.

"Matt is the kind of player that really likes to play and we like to have him," Reid said about Massey during an interview with Power 91's Art Challis on Monday. "If we can have five guys on the court playing with the same enthusiasm and intensity as him, then we're going to have a much better ball team and we're going to win games."

Massey is one of three new Australian faces to the SUU line-up, along with freshman center Matt Hodgson and freshman guard Damon Heuir.

As expected, senior guard Davis Baker has led the team in scoring early in the season.

Baker, who led the team with over 17 points per game last year, is The Summit League's top returning scorer and has led the T-Birds with just over 14 points per game this season.

Baker landed 20 points in the win over McNeese State.

Nielson ranks both second in points and in rebounds for SUU after three games. He has averaged 13.7 points and 4.7 boards in an average of 24 minutes of play this season. Reid said later during the interview that he has used experience from the first couple of games to evaluate each player's level of play.

"(Early on) we're learning who can contribute for us during the games," he said. "It's a learning situation for not just the players, but for the coaches too. We're learning who can play for us and who can't."

Thus far, Reid has appeared to have stuck with his starting five of Baker, Nielson, Massey, Hodgson and freshman guard Scott Friel.

Senior guard Drew Allen has also seen a considerable amount of playing time early in the season for the T-Birds, while junior guard Ryan Brimley, who hit two clutch 3-pointers against McNeese State, is also beginning to see playing time. Heuir, freshman center Dallin Bachynski and freshman guard Jordan Weirick have also seen notable playing time for SUU.

One point the T-Birds will attempt to correct this week is the fact that they have been outscored 197-167 during the three games played this season, but only 95-93 in the second half. Reid said one reason for that has been switching from man-to-man coverage to more of a traditional zone coverage back-and-forth in games to throw off the opposing offense.

Another one of Reid's reasons for the defensive changing is because of the foul trouble his players have been getting into.

"We're going to change our defenses more and more as games progress," he said. "Our big guys have been getting into foul trouble in man-to-man situations and it's hurting us."

SUU will host University of the Southwest on Thursday and Wayland Baptist on Saturday; both games will tip off at 7 p.m. in the Centrum Arena.

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