Poor free throw shooting leads to DSU loss in season opener

File photo of Dixie State University vs. Holy Names University, Basketball, St. George, Utah, Feb. 25, 2017, | Photo by Kevin Luthy, St. George News

POMONA, Calif. – The Dixie State basketball team opened the season with a disappointing double-overtime loss against Cal Poly-Pomona on the road, 79-75.

The game was a good defensive battle, pitting Dixie State’s man-to-man against the half-court 1-3-1 by the Broncos. The Trailblazers were able to come from behind in regulation and the first overtime, but it was the free-throw shooting that eventually led to Dixie State’s demise.

“This was a tough one to lose,” Dixie State head coach Jon Judkins said. “There are going to be nights where one or two guys will have a rough night at the line. But it is rare when the whole team is missing free throws. We played hard, though. Our defense and rebounding was exceptional. If we continue to play as hard as we did tonight, we will do well.”

The Trailblazer season scoring began on a 3-pointer from Kyler Nielson from the left side. Dixie State jumped out to an early 6-2 lead on Trevor Hill’s runner in the lane. The first half saw neither team break away from the other. The largest lead was held by Dixie State. The Trailblazers led by five when Bubba Miller took a feed from Tarik Cool at the top of the key and drilled a 3-pointer for the 28-23 lead with 2:21 remaining in the half. The bucket capped an 8-0 run.

The Broncos closed strong though, eventually tying the game and going into halftime only down one, 29-28.

Dixie State’s Kyler Nielson (20), file photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

The story of the first half, however, was DSU’s continuation from last year’s difficulty at the charity stripe. The Blazers drew 10 fouls, including three apiece on two of the Bronco players. But they only connected on 6 of 13 attempts. Aside from Nielson’s early trip to the line, no other player successfully hit both free throws in any of his trips to the line. The Bronco defense also forced DSU into nine turnovers.

The Broncos’ 1-3-1 half- court zone limited the DSU field goal percentage to 40 percent. The Blazer man-to-man was more effective, holding Cal Poly to 37.9 percent.

The Blazers did well on the glass. They outrebounded the Broncos 18-9, including a 10-1 advantage at the offensive end. Those offensive rebounds led DSU to a 10-0 advantage on second-chance points. Two of those putbacks came from Nielson, who led the Blazers with nine points at the break.

Isaiah Clark started the scoring in the second half with an out-of-bounds play under the DSU hoop. Clark scored the first six Blazer points with two more assists from Hill to give DSU a 35-30 lead. The lead grew to 38-32 on Brandon Simister’s 3 from the corner.

Clark’s dunk off an interior feed from Zac Hunter gave the Blazers a 43-36 lead with 15:34 remaining. Over the next five minutes, the Broncos went on a 10-0 run. Dub Price’s midrange jumper on an out-of-bounds play pulled the Blazers to within one with 11 minutes remaining, 46-45.

The Blazers could not retake the lead, however and another Cal Poly run gave them an eight-point lead, 55-47, with 7:30 remaining. The lead grew to 61-52 with 5:35 to play. The Dixie State defense then stepped up and held the Broncos scoreless over the remaining time of regulation.

Hill and Simister nailed 3-pointers to get DSU within three with 2:21 remaining. Nielson then hit 1 of 2 free throws to pull Dixie State within a bucket. On DSU’s final possession, Quincy Mathews drove left and got a layup off the glass to tie the score. With the shot clock and game clock only separated by two seconds, the Broncos drained the clock and got a shot off, but the layup had no chance as Clark had altered the Bronco player’s shot trajectory.

The first overtime saw the Broncos score the first two buckets. The Trailblazers only had possession for about 20 seconds of the first three-plus minutes as the Broncos were able to get offensive rebounds and drain clock. But once again, DSU battled back. Simister hit a jumper on a putback. After the teams traded free throws, Isaiah Clark got fouled while converting a Hill pass into two points. The free throw came off, though and Clark blocked the 3-point attempt by the Broncos.

“On the road against good teams, all you can ask for is to have chances to win it at the end of the game,” Judkins said. “We had those opportunities tonight, but we did not finish them.”

Dixie State saw its first lead in almost 14 minutes when Tarik Cool hit a free throw to open up the scoring in the second overtime, 67-66. Two quick buckets by the Broncos off DSU turnovers erased the lead and the Blazers were once again playing from behind. Another Bronco 3-pointer put Dixie State in the hole 76-68 with 1:33 remaining in the second overtime.

A 3-pointer by Cool and two Blazer free throws pulled DSU to within 76-73 with 36 seconds remaining. Mathews’ layup with 17 seconds on the clock got the Blazers to within two at 77-75. The Broncos hit two free throws and then stole the inbound pass to seal the victory for the home team.

For the game, the field goal percentage was nearly even with DSU holding the 40-39 percent advantage. The difference was at the free-throw line. The Broncos shot a woeful 57 percent. But it was still better than Dixie State. The Blazers left 17 points on the floor as they only connected on 14 of 31 free throws for 45 percent. The Blazers also committed 19 turnovers to the Broncos nine.

“Slim (Isaiah Clark) had a phenomenal game with 14 points and 15 rebounds,” Judkins said. “He also played great defense, blocking three shots and altering a few others.”

The Blazers outrebounded Cal Poly 62-40 and shot 37 percent from beyond the arc. But the free throws and the 14 points they gave up off turnovers would prove to be the difference.

Individually for Dixie State, Clark led the team with 14 points. Nielson and Simister had 13 points apiece. Also scoring in double figures were Hill (11) and Mathews (10). Clark and Hill had double-doubles with 15 and 10 rebounds respectively. Nielson just missed by pulling down nine rebounds, six at the offensive end. Hill also led the team with seven assists.

“One good thing is we have a quick turnaround tomorrow night,” Judkins said. “We will play at 5 p.m. We can put this game behind us quickly. Our bench will get more minutes tomorrow, so hopefully they will be ready to play.”

Dixie State will face UC-San Diego Saturday night. The Tritons eliminated DSU last year in the NCAA Tournament.

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Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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