The Utah Valley men’s basketball team lost their second game of the season as they were overwhelmed by the Southern Utah Thunderbirds on Wednesday night at the UCCU Center.
SUU improved their record to 4-1 with their 81-71 victory, while UVU is now 2-2.
Things got off to an inauspicious start for the Wolverines, as SUU junior guard Tevian Jones banked in a heavily defended 3 with time running out on the shot clock to put the Thunderbirds up 3-0.
“I saw it bank in and I said to myself, you’ve got to be kidding me,” UVU head coach Mark Madsen said after the game. “We have to be so good that it doesn’t matter if somebody banks in a three. We have to be so good that it takes that margin of error out.”
Jones, who transferred from Illinois prior to this season, would go on to have a career night in almost every statistical category. He scored 21 points in the first half alone and finished with a game-high 33 points and played for 39 minutes.
The Wolverines kept pace with the T-Birds through the opening minutes of the game, thanks in large part to another dominant post performance by sophomore center Fardaws Aimaq. Aimaq scored the first six points for UVU, including a pair of made free throws. The big man is shooting 53.8% from the line this season.
UVU also got a boost early on from graduate forward Evan Cole, who has missed the last three games with what Madsen described as a “severe case of COVID-19.” Cole was on a minutes restriction and played for only 14 minutes but he made his presence felt with a thunderous slam dunk following an offensive rebound by Aimaq.
SUU continued to find ways to score, though, and the T-Birds took a 42-33 lead into the locker room at halftime. The Wolverines collectively shot 48% from the field in the first half and 33% from 3-point range. SUU shot 58% from the field and scored 24 of their points in the paint. They also scored 14 points off of turnovers, compared to nine for UVU.
Coming out of the locker room, UVU looked like a different team and quickly cut into SUU’s lead. The Wolverines forced turnovers on three straight SUU possessions, which led to a pair of free throws for junior guard Blaze Nield and a layup and free throw for sophomore guard Jordan Brinson. With 14:09 to play, UVU brought the game within one point — they trailed SUU 55-54.
The T-Birds managed to rally once again, though, and the Wolverines would trail by at least five for the remainder of the game. A handful of fouls by UVU gave the T-Birds ample opportunities from the charity stripe down the closing stretch. By the end of the game, three Wolverines had fouled out — Cole, junior guard Trey Woodbury and sophomore guard Le’Tre Darthard.
Madsen said he was disappointed in the teams’ lack of consistency, adding that it isn’t enough for the Wolverines to play only a few great possessions per game.
“We have to do the little things every night, and when we do, we’re going to be a special team,” he said. “I cannot live with mental mistakes. Collectively, we had too many mental mistakes..”
There were some signs of hope for UVU, such as the emergence of Cole and the continued dominance of Aimaq. Aimaq recorded his third double-double of the season as he led the Wolverines with 20 points and 15 rebounds. He also had four blocks and shot 8-of-15 from the field and 4-of-7 from the free throw line.
“Fardaws is a player who makes big plays,” Madsen said. “He’s rebounding at a level that, in terms of national leaders, he’s right up there. His potential is limitless. You can see his soft touch under the basket. I look for him to continue to dominate the glass.”
Madsen also praised the performance of Brinson, who finished the game with 18 points and five assists.
“I was proud of Jordan Brinson tonight. He was tremendous at getting to the rim and finding angles,” he said.
UVU was without senior guard Jamison Overton, who leads the team with 19.7 points per game and is shooting 63.9% from the field this year. Attrition has been an issue for the Wolverines this season, with Cole having missed the first three games and Overton’s absence on Wednesday night. Once the team is back at full strength, they can hopefully start to build some of that consistency the team desperately needs.
The Wolverines were outdone on the glass, pulling down only 33 rebounds compared to SUU’s 44, and only grabbing five offensive boards. UVU shot 44% from the field, but only 28% from behind the arc and 67% from the free throw line. Woodbury, who leads the team with an impressive 3-point field goal percentage of 55.6, got only four 3-point attempts and finished the game with 15 points and six rebounds. In his limited time on the floor, Cole scored six points on 2-of-6 shooting.
“I think our defense picked up, it has to be better from the start,” Madsen said. “Our individual defense was not good enough. We have to be better…when we get momentum to keep momentum. That will allow us to win games like this in the future.”
The T-Birds will take on 2-0 Dixie State at home on Thursday, Dec. 17 at 7 p.m. MST.
UVU is in action again this weekend when they host the Wyoming Cowboys on Saturday, Dec. 12 at 2 p.m. MST in the UCCU Center. The Cowboys are 4-1 this season, with a loss against Texas Southern and a win at Oregon State. The Wolverines and Cowboys met last season in Laramie, Wyoming — UVU won 69-67. Saturday’s game will be televised on the WAC Digital Network and aired on ESPN 960 AM.
Bridger Beal-Cvetko is a junior at Utah Valley University where he is studying journalism. He has been with The Review since 2019, where he has covered the UVU men’s basketball team and the softball team during his time as Sports Editor. Bridger has also worked as a producer for ESPN 960 AM. Aside from sports, Bridger is an ardent cinephile, and loves reading fantasy and science fiction novels.