Thunderbirds crush Leatherneck cagers

Matthew Johnson

Plagued by tentative defense and poor second-half shooting, the Leathernecks’ dropped what should have been an easy victory to Southern Utah University 75-71.From the way the Leathernecks (10-6) played in the first half, one would have expected them to win hands down. With 6:57 left, Mark Buckingham took the ‘Necks up by 10 on three consecutive three-pointers and one foul shot. But SUU clawed their way back into the game and were only down by two at half-time, 37-35.

And then the ‘Necks hit a wall.

The ‘Necks only connected on 10 of 36 from the field in the second half; a meager 28 percent.

“We had opportunities to really get control in the first half but we never got it done,” WIU coach Jim Kerwin said.

Surprisingly, the ‘Necks were still in it with 4:15 left in the game, but missed 7 of 14 from the foul line to ice the SUU victory.

“We haven’t been a very good free-throw shooting team,” Kerwin said. “We shot 60 percent, but missed crucial ones down the stretch as we have in a bunch of games this year.”

The loss ends a 1-2 home-stand for the ‘Necks, a number which Kerwin thinks could easily be 0-3.

“This is as bad of three games we’ve had since I’ve been here,” he said. The Thunderbirds (5-12), who had lost eight consecutive road games coming into Wednesday’s match-up were happy to finally win.

“The road is tough. Any road win you get is always a good win,” Southern Utah coach Bill Evans said. “Tonight I’ll be able to think about good thoughts instead of bad thoughts for a change.”

SUU outplayed the ‘Necks on both end of the floor, shooting 56 percent from the field and pulling down 27 defensive rebounds.

“It’s uncharacteristic of us to be able to out-rebound anybody,” Evans said.

The Thunderbirds, who are now independent, will be entering the Mid-Continent Conference next year along with Oral Roberts University.

“There’s always something to look forward to when your in a league that has a tournament with an automatic bid,” Evans said with excitement about his team’s joining the Mid-Con.

That automatic bid has to be on the minds of the Leathernecks, but the team to beat this year – Valparasio – is waiting in the way.

“We’re just a team that’s really struggling at this time. We can’t stop anybody anymore,” Kerwin said. “We were a pretty good defensive team up until the last three of four basketball games and now we can’t stop anybody.