GAME NOTES: A couple of Big Sky Conference programs try to kick off the calendar year on the right foot tonight, as North Dakota entertains the Thunderbirds of Southern Utah.
Both of these teams have struggled during the first two months of the season, combining for a mere four victories, but the Thunderbirds have had the toughest road with just a single win. The team is winless on the road in six tries, and has yet to register a victory over a Division I program.
Since defeating Arizona Christian in the season opener (85-78), SUU has dropped eight straight decisions, the latest being a 67-52 final versus San Diego back on Dec. 21 on the road.
Meanwhile North Dakota, which is also winless away from home (0-7), has a total of three victories and only one of those came against a D-I foe in North Dakota State. Last Saturday, the squad closed out the 2013 portion of the schedule with an 84-66 loss to Northern Colorado in the conference opener.
North Dakota leads the all-time series, 2-1, thanks in part to a 69-52 victory last year in Montana during the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Tournament in the middle of March.
The Thunderbirds converted only nine field goals in the first half against San Diego, and shot 38.5 percent from the floor for the game at Jenny Craig Pavilion. Eric Ripptoe came off the bench to post 14 points in just 15 minutes of action as he knocked down all three of his 3-point shots, while A.J. Hess posted 13 points as the only starter in double figures.
Trey Kennedy, who shot just 1-of-5 from the floor and finished with two points versus the Toreros, is still the leading scorer for the Thunderbirds with his 10.7 ppg, but he is now shooting a mere 37.2 percent from the floor over the course of nine starts. One of the lowest scoring programs in the nation with only 56.0 ppg, Southern Utah has juggled the starting lineup to the point where only three players have started more than half the games to this point in the campaign.
UND led by four points early in the meeting with the Bears last Sunday at Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion, but that advantage was short lived because the hosts converted a sizzling 66.7 percent from the floor in the period and eventually connected on 60.4 percent for the game, not to mention 19-of-21 at the free-throw line. Jaron Nash managed to score a game-high 22 points for the visitors, followed by Troy Huff with 13, but the latter shot only 3-of-12 from the field and 1-of-5 beyond the arc.
Scoring in double figures in all but one game this season, Huff is now eighth on the program's all-time scoring list and is averaging a hefty 21.8 ppg. Nash checks in with 12.4 ppg and Aaron Anderson another 11.6 ppg for a squad that is generating 75.6 ppg, but shooting just 64.6 percent at the charity stripe. Opponents are connecting on 73.8 percent at the free-throw line and that has helped those teams to put up 77.6 ppg.
With an ailing offense and a defense that is a bit too easy-going, the Thunderbirds stand little chance of picking up the win tonight, regardless of where the game is being played.
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