While the game itself wasn’t close, Southern Utah’s 73-54 victory over Portland State at Viking Pavilion on Saturday carried with it plenty of significance.
With the win, the T-Birds captured their first regular-season conference championship since 2001 and first as a member of the Big Sky. Southern Utah ends the year with a 19-3 record and 12-2 mark in Big Sky Conference play, after beating the Vikings in Portland, Oregon.
John Knight III tied his career high with a game-high 26 points — the senior guard shot 11 of 13 from the field — and added five assists, four rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot as SUU shot 60% as a team and never trailed in the title-clinching win.
“So many people have been part of this journey. Former players, former staff, everyone that’s had a hand in building this. This is five years in the making, and so many people have been part of making it happen.” — SUU coach Todd Simon
“We’re so competitive that I just wanted to finish the game strong, but then I started to just feel grateful,” SUU head coach Todd Simon said, per the team’s website. “So many people have been part of this journey. Former players, former staff, everyone that’s had a hand in building this. This is five years in the making, and so many people have been part of making it happen.”
The T-Birds entered the week trailing Eastern Washington by a half game in the Big Sky standings, but the Eagles lost to Idaho State on Wednesday, opening the door for SUU to capture the crown. The T-Birds beat Portland State on Thursday, setting up Saturday’s game to clinch the regular-season championship.
Southern Utah jumped out to an early 7-2 lead, with all seven points coming from Dre Marin, then used an 11-2 run to end the first half to take a 41-25 lead into the break. The T-Birds, who held Portland State to 36.4% shooting, led by double digits throughout the entire second half.
Marin added 19 points for SUU — shooting 8 of 12 from the field — while adding three assists and a steal. Tevian Jones also scored in double figures, putting up 13 points, five rebounds and a steal.
It’s SUU’s first regular-season conference crown since winning the Mid-Continent Conference 20 years ago. That 2001 season was also the same year the T-Birds made their lone NCAA Tournament appearance, losing 68-65 to Boston College in the first round.
Southern Utah will be the No. 1 seed in next week’s Big Sky tournament in Boise, Idaho, with the opportunity to earn the league’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid. Following a first-round bye, the T-Birds will open Big Sky tournament play with a quarterfinal game on Thursday at 11 a.m. against the winner of the No. 8-No. 9 seed game.
“This group is mature, we have a formula that if we follow we know we’ll be special,” Simon said. “The character of the group is so strong that we know if we play the right way the outcome will be in our favor. This group was confident.”