IRVINE, Calif. – Dixie State’s valiant comeback went for naught as Point Loma Nazarene scored in the final seconds of the game to knock the Trailblazers out of the PacWest Conference tournament Thursday afternoon, 71-69.
DSU’s Trevor Hill knew exactly what the play was going to be. With the score tied and the shot clock turned off, Point Loma’s playmaking point guard, Josh Rodriguez, was dribbling out the clock for the final shot. Hill was frantically waving for someone to come up and trap him. No one came.
With eight seconds left, Rodriguez executed a high pick-and-roll and drove to the hoop. Hill chased him and Dub Price prevented him from getting direct access to the basket. Rodriguez deftly passed the ball to teammate Skylar White. Zac Hunter forced White to put up an awkward shot, but the ball did a three-quarter roll and came right back to White. He got a tip on the rebound that found the mark, giving Point Loma a 71-69 lead with 0.7 showing on the clock. Dixie State could not get a shot off at the buzzer and for the second time in three years, the Blazers went down at the PacWest tourney on a last-second shot.
The Blazers made an amazing comeback to tie the game. After two technical foul free throws gave Point Loma a 60-40 lead with 12:07 remaining in the game, DSU played desperate and began chipping away at the lead. Hill started the run with nine straight Blazer points. His alley-oop dunk off a pass from Kyler Nielson pulled the Blazers to within 62-49 with 8:53 on the clock.
With under three minutes remaining in the game, Price connected on two free throws to get the lead into single digits, 67-59. Hill and Hunter hit consecutive shots to trim the lead to 67-63 with 1:54 left. After two free throws from PLNU put the lead to six, the Blazers got two big 3-pointers. Kyler Nielson hit the first with 1:15 remaining. After two missed free throws by Point Loma, Hill drove the lane and found Hunter on the right side. Hunter’s aim was true and with 29 seconds remaining, the score was tied, setting up Point Loma’s last possession.
“We did not hit our shots the first 25 minutes of the game,” said Dixie State head coach Jon Judkins. “Point Loma did. When we were down 20, we told our guys to just go out and play. Many times you get caught up in the Xs and Os and that leads to mental errors. We told them just go play.
“We started pressing them as well,” said Judkins. “We probably should have started that earlier, but we were able to get some turnovers there at the end to spur the run.”
Once again, poor free throw shooting hurt the Blazers as they connected on only 9 of 20 for the night. They were also outshot by the Sea Lions from the floor 47-42 percent and beyond the arc 41-22 percent. The Blazers outperformed PLNU in all other facets. They outrebounded Point Loma 46-32, resulting in a 21-5 edge in second-chance points. They outscored the Sea Lions 38-26 in the paint.
Individually, Hill led the team with 17 points and eight rebounds. Hunter had 14 points and seven rebounds. Brandon Simister and Marcus Bradley had nine points apiece. Nielson led the team with four assists.
“We have worked endlessly on free throws,” said Judkins. “And in practice we hit them. That does not always translate to game situations, though.”
Point Loma will advance to the semifinals to face Cal Baptist. The Blazers fall to 19-8 on the season and will have to wait and see if they will be invited to the NCAA Division II Tournament on Sunday. In the last rankings, the Blazers were seventh in the West Region. Only eight teams are invited. Three conference tournament champions receive automatic bids, then the top five remaining at-large teams receive the other bids. Dixie State was left out of last year’s tournament in a similar season-ending situation when lesser-ranked teams won their conference tournaments and dropped them out of the top eight.
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