ST. GEORGE – Dixie State’s Jon Judkins celebrated his 500th career win as a head coach on Saturday night as the Trailblazers beat Hawaii-Hilo 81-72 at DSU’s Burns Arena.
Entering the game, Judkins had a record of 499-234, including 195 wins at Dixie State. The Blazers led from start to finish against visiting University of Hawaii-Hilo to get Judkins to the milestone.
“Before the game, we did not think about it too much,” said Dixie State wing Quincy Mathews. “It really did not hit me until after the game when I saw coach get emotional with the presentation of the game ball. When he got back to the locker room, we had a surprise for him. Sort of our own twist on the Gatorade bucket on the head.”
Judkins entered the locker room after the presentation and was attacked from all sides with water bottles splashing from all directions.
“I came in and saw there was nothing in anyone’s hands,” said Judkins. “Thought I had dodged a bullet. Then on cue they all reached behind their backs simultaneously and I got drenched.”
The game started with the Vulcans being introduced to Marcus Bradley. On the first four possessions, the Vulcans got their shots blocked three times, twice by Bradley.
“Marcus does not look like a shot blocker,” said Zac Hunter. “But he is very athletic and can get off the floor. He blocked a few and altered a few tonight.”
“I tell my guys I would much rather they take a charge,” said Dixie State head coach Jon Judkins. “But I think initially it may have changed what they wanted to do offensively.”
For the second game in a row, the opposing defense gave Brandon Simister some space on offense. And for the second game in a row, Simister made them pay for it. He hit his first two shots from distance. UH-Hilo head coach G.E. Coleman called a timeout early to set up his defense for Simister.
Simister seemed puzzled why teams have not been guarding him early.
“I heard him over at the bench calling his players out to guard me,” said Simister. “I am not sure why they are backing off me early, but I hope it continues.”
After Simister’s initial spark, the Trailblazers began pounding the ball inside against the smaller Vulcan lineup. Both Hunter and Bradley hit key baskets early.
“We try to go inside early in every game, whether we have the size advantage or not,” said Judkins. “That opens up our perimeter shooters when teams go down to double. Kind of like a football team establishes the run before they start passing. We establish our inside game to open up our outside game.”
The Trailblazers used their inside game to go on an 11-0 run early. Quincy Mathews’ fast break layup finished the run and Dixie State’s lead was 22-9 with just over 10 minutes remaining in the half. Moments later, the Blazers had their largest lead of the game on Hunter’s post move. With 7:26 showing, the lead was 29-14.
The Vulcans made some mini runs to end the half, but Dixie State kept the lead in double figures for most of it. A Vulcan jump shot from Darius Johnson-Wilson pulled UH-Hilo to within 39-30 to end the half.
In the first half, Dixie State shot a blistering 59 percent from the floor while holding the Vulcans to 27 percent. The Trailblazers also held a 34-19 rebound advantage. Zac Hunter paced Dixie with nine first-half points. Four other Trailblazers had six points apiece. Marcus Bradley had four blocks at halftime.
Similar play continued coming out of halftime. The Blazers could not extend their lead, but at the same time UH-H could not close either. The Vulcans finally put a 10-2 run together after the first media timeout.
“We were not playing poorly,” said Judkins. “We were just missing our free throws.”
The Blazers got into the bonus early in the second half. But at the time, they had hit only 4 of 17 from the line for a paltry 24 percent. With 13:54 to play, Dixie State’s lead had shrunk to 48-44. Judkins called a timeout.
“I did not want our misses at the line to alter our game plan,” said Judkins. “I told them not to worry about the free throws. Continue to take the ball to the hole and draw the fouls. I knew eventually the free throws would start to fall.”
Eventually they did start falling as the Vulcans began sending Dixie State to the line with regularity. DSU would hit 17 of their final 24 free throws to finish the game. The Vulcans never threatened again.
Immediately after the timeout, Mathews hit two free throws and Hunter completed a three-point play with another swish from the line to put Dixie State back up nine points.
For the game, Dixie State shot 57 percent while holding the Vulcans to 35 percent. DSU connected on 25 of 43 free throws for 58 percent. The Trailblazers outrebounded Hilo 46-33.
Individually for the Trailblazers, Hunter led the team with a career-high 18 points. Hill scored 13. Simister and Mathews scored 12 apiece. Price and Nielson each had nine. Mathews led the team with nine rebounds. Hill led the team with seven assists.
The win gives the Trailblazers an overall record of 14-5 and an 11-2 mark in the PacWest, a half-game back of nationally-ranked frontrunners Cal Baptist and Hawaii Pacific. UH-Hilo falls to 4-7 in the conference and 6-11 overall.
Dixie State will host BYU-Hawaii on Thursday night at Burns Arena. Game time is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
University of Hawaii-Hilo 60, Dixie State University 57
The Vulcans made a furious comeback in the fourth quarter to erase a double-digit lead that Dixie State held late in the second half. UH-Hilo outscored the Trailblazers 19-10 in the fourth quarter. Dixie State held a 39-27 lead early in the third quarter.
With 4:25 remaining in the game, Hilo’s Pilialoha Kailiawa’s layup from the left side gave the Vulcans their first lead since early in the second quarter. Dixie State responded with three straight post baskets by Shelby Kassuba. Dixie State led 57-52 with 2:40 remaining. The Trailblazers would not score again. Two missed shots and three turnovers that led to four Vulcan points at the other end that proved fatal.
Alexa Jacobs’ drive drew the foul and scored the basket. Her free throw with 1:49 remaining tied the score at 57-57. The Vulcans ended the game with a basket and free throw on separate possessions to grab the three-point final margin.
Dixie State outshot the Vulcans 41-36 percent. The rebounds were slightly in UH-H’s favor, 37-36. The difference came on turnovers, where the Trailblazers had five more. The points off turnovers were only two points in UH-H’s favor, but in a close game, one basket is all the difference needed.
Individually for Dixie State, Kassuba had 13 points in just 11 minutes of playing time. Ashley Burge joined her in double figures with 11 points and added six rebounds in just 19 minutes of playing time. Matti Ventling and Lisa VanCampen each scored nine. Ali Franks scored eight. Ventling led the team with nine rebounds and six assists.
The Trailblazers fall to 2-17 overall and 2-11 in the PacWest. They will host BYU-Hawaii on Thursday night at 5 p.m. The Vulcans improve to 5-9 overall and 5-6 in the PacWest.
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