GAME NOTES: Following a week off, the Idaho State Bengals get back to work when they battle the Southern Utah Thunderbirds in a Big Sky Conference clash at Centrum Arena on Saturday.
Last weekend, Idaho State finished a short homestand with an 80-75 loss to North Dakota. The loss was the third in the last four games for the Bengals, who are just 8-13 overall, although they have put up a bit more of a fight in conference play (5-7). They return home to host Weber State next, before playing four of their final six games on the road.
Even though Idaho State has struggled, its problems pale in comparison to those of Southern Utah. The Thunderbirds have only one win in 21 games this season. They are the only team to have just a single victory on the campaign, as Cornell, now 2-19, earned its second on Friday night. They will host Portland State in the third installment of a four-game homestand next.
When these teams met in Pocatello earlier in the season, Idaho State was dominant defensively en route to a 60-45 victory on its home floor. Even with the win, the second in the last three meetings for the Bengals, Southern Utah still leads the all-time series, 13-8.
Despite an incredible 23 points and 20 rebounds from Jeffrey Solarin, Idaho State didn't have enough to take down North Dakota. The Bengals allowed their foe to connect on 58.7 percent from the floor, including 9-of-21 from 3-point range, in the five-point decision.
Idaho State is at the lower end of the Big Sky rankings when it comes to offense. The Bengals are seventh in both scoring (71 ppg) and field goal percentage (.454), although they are third in rebounding (35 rpg). Chris Hansen (16.7 ppg) is one of three players averaging in double figures for the Bengals, with Tomas Sanchez (15.1 ppg, 4.4 apg) and Andre Hatchett (14.6 ppg) also getting in on the action. Sanchez tallied 17 points and seven assists, while Hansen tacked on 13 against North Dakota. Solarin (9.8 ppg, 8.2 rpg) leads on the glass, but he is the only other player putting in more than 6.5 ppg.
Southern Utah was not as close to victory as Idaho State last time out, falling in a 75-55 rout at home to Weber State. Jaren Jeffery scored 11 points off the bench to pace the Thunderbirds, who shot just 38.3 percent from the floor compared to 60.5 percent for the Wildcats.
Not surprisingly for a team that has yet to earn its second victory, the Thunderbirds have tremendous difficulty putting points on the board. They are last in the Big Sky in both scoring (56.2 ppg) and field goal percentage (.392). On defense, they allow 73.5 ppg on 48.1 percent shooting and they are only collecting 27.4 rebounds per contest. Trey Kennedy (9.6 ppg) is the top scoring threat on a club that does not feature a single player averaging more than 10 points per game. A.J. Hess (8.9 ppg) is the next best option, but both he and Kennedy are shooting below 40 percent from the floor.
Since an 85-78 win over Arizona Christian in the season opener, Southern Utah has not been able to notch a victory. Don't expect that to change on Saturday, even against an Idaho State team that is far from the Big Sky's best.
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