By: Keller Sherman
Featured Image Courtesy of Southern Utah Athletics
LAS VEGAS — For the Trailblazers, the slipper no longer fits. It looked all game though as it might have thought when the Thunderbirds just could not build any breathing room. Southern Utah found itself down by as much as six in the second half and did not open their own two-possession lead until the waning seconds. Harrison Butler made two free throws with eight seconds left to give the Thunderbirds a 76-72 lead. Cameron Gooden had a career night with 35 points for the Trailblazers and sank a three-pointer at the buzzer. Unfortunately for Utah Tech, it was not for overtime or the win.
Gooden’s 35-point showing nearly doubled that of any scorer for the Thunderbirds. He nearly won the game by himself, but six Thunderbirds reached double figures. That includes all five starters as well as ten points from Cameron Healy off the bench. Jason Spurgin led the scoring with eighteen points for SUU. Tevian Jones, the first-team all-WAC honoree only went for 10 but saw limited playing time in the second half. Todd Simon put Jones on the bench in favor of Healy due to what he felt were poor shot decisions. It took a valiant effort in a sloppy game all-around for SUU, but the Thunderbirds were able to get it done when it mattered most.
SUU brought a bus of students to Orleans Arena on Thursday night although some made the 2.5-hour drive themselves. Utah Tech’s student section showed out with their student attendance nearly doubling that of SUU’s. What’s more, is that all of the students in the Stampede on Thursday night made the trip from St George by themselves. It may have helped that the Trailblazers have Spring Break next week so Vegas was just a stopping point for the adventures ahead. SUU had its Spring Break last week and perhaps that played into the limited student presence in Orleans. The Stampede certainly won this student section battle in the stands over the Thunder Crew handily.
The Thunderbirds get ready to play their second in-state rival in as many days. They will face a Utah Valley team that cruised past Tarleton in their quarterfinal matchup. The Wolverines defeated the Texans 72-58 to set up an in-state showdown in the semifinals. All UVU was waiting to find out was which team from down south they would face for the third time this season. The Wolverines can find peace knowing the Old Hammer will remain in Orem until next season. Thanks to the grit and resilience of the Thunderbirds, it will be Thunderbirds vs Wolverines under Friday night lights.