By: Keller Sherman
Featured Image Courtesy of Emily Wight, Utah Tech Athletics
CEDAR CITY, Utah — All 4,554 fans in the America First Event Center had a reason to be nervous Friday night. With 8:45 to go in the 2nd half, Tanner Christensen had given Utah Tech its first lead of the game since a 3-2 advantage early on. The player that had given the Thunderbirds fits all night put the Traiblazers in front 53-52. Christensen and Cameron Gooden produced a highlight reel during the meeting in St George. This time, the high-scoring duo was only held to 10 combined points, a major turnaround. That didn’t stop other Utah Tech players from stepping up.
High Scoring Affair
With Christensen and Gooden not able to do much all night, two Trailblazers more than just stepped up. They went above and beyond. Isaiah Pope turned in a 24-point performance Jacob Nicolds went for 22. The duo combined for 46 points coming up just a point short of the 47-point effort of Christensen and Gooden two weeks ago. Fortunately for the Thunderbirds, they had quite the response on offense. Whereas Nicolds and Pope were the only Trailblazers in double figures, SUU got four such performances. Tevian Jones did what he does best leading the scoring for SUU with 22 points. Right behind him was a 20-point effort by Maizen Fausett, the leading scorer in the first meeting with Utah Tech. Drake Allen and Harrison Butler had 19 and 14 points respectively.
There was a period of time when Utah Tech had a grand opportunity to pull an improbable sweep of the Thunderbirds. However, it was easy to tell that this game meant everything to SUU. An opportunity to avenge a rivalry loss in front of a packed America First Event Center with a season-high attendance mark. The message was clear. The atmosphere in the AFEC is just different when an in-state opponent is in town. Except for this time, the AFEC might have been even more electric than when the Thunderbirds hosted Utah Valley three weeks ago.
That Rivalry Meaning
Some might say Utah Tech had no business making this game competitive. The Thunderbirds are clearly the better team on paper and it was in their building this time. Not to mention the revenge factor and everything was favoring SUU in a rout. However, the Trailblazers hung around all game. The hard-fought effort shown by Utah Tech was a great example of just how different rivalry games are. It does not matter where the game is, a great game should always be the expectation. In the end, however, it was the Thunderbirds that wanted it just a little more. If Friday’s game was any indication, these two teams are going to provide some fun, entertaining games for both sides for years to come.
The two teams head off to Texas next week for two games next week. Utah Tech heads to UT-Rio Grande Valley Thursday and faces UT-Arlington Saturday. SUU will face the Mavericks on Thursday and have a rematch with Sam Houston State on Saturday. The Thunderbirds beat the Bearkats 86-74 in what has been a theme for SUU at home this season. The Thunderbirds are unbeaten at home in WAC play and have won some big games in Cedar City. UVU, Stephen F Austin, Sam Houston, and tonight’s game against Utah Tech are just some of the highlights.