ST. GEORGE — Last year, the Trailblazers were the No. 2 seed heading into the RMAC conference tournament, but they suffered a tough loss to the eventual champion, No. 7 New Mexico Highlands. This year, the Trailblazers came into the tournament as the regular season co-champions and the No. 1 seed, but they didn’t want history to repeat itself.
“It was kind of like a mental block,” senior Jack Pagenkopf said of the first round game. “It’s like, ‘can we win this game?’ We know we can but we didn’t, but you know you’re good enough. You’ve got to get over this hurdle, it’s the biggest hurdle. Now, at least I feel like, we kind of have some momentum. You can take a deep breath and say, ‘we’re not going to be that team that doesn’t live up to their potential.'”
The loss in the first round last season was in the back of the Trailblazers’ minds on Tuesday night as they got ready to play Regis at home, but they were able to pull out the win 84-71.
“We brought that up because we had a lot of guys back from last year’s team,” Trailblazers head coach Jon Judkins said. “I thought the start of the second half we really came out with that energy. We were up 10, 12, 13 and then all of the sudden they made a run and cut it. We have to do a better job of controlling their runs.”
The Trailblazers led by five at halftime but they extended their lead to 12 points with under 15 minutes to go in the game. Despite the double-digit lead, Regis battled. They pulled to within eight points at the 12:30 mark and then tied the game at 56 with just under nine minutes to go in the game.
It looked like Regis was going to make a run at the win but Andre Wilson answered with a big three and Dixie pushed the lead back to seven. The lead went back down to three with three minutes left but DSU immediately got it back to seven points.
After two technical fouls and six straight made free throws for Wilson, the Trailblazers locked in the win by double figures.
Now with the first round win under their belt, Dixie State moves on to the semifinals. But it’s also important to note that because they are the top seed left, they get to host the rest of the conference tournament.
That home court advantage will be big for the Trailblazers.
“It is huge. I hate going to South Dakota so thank goodness we don’t have to go up there,” Pagenkopf said. “Just being home, you’ve got your friends here, everybody you know is here, and it just hypes you up. We’re so much better at home I feel like.”
Being able to sleep in your own bed, use your own locker room, shoot on your home hoops and go through your regular home game routine is a big plus for Dixie State, and Judkins stressed the importance of taking that advantage.
Judkins also touched on how hungry his team is after they missed out on being in sole possession of the RMAC regular season championship. Pagenkopf also mentioned how locked in his team is heading into the semifinals.
“We’re really focused on this, and I don’t know what it is because all of conference we didn’t talk about the tournament once,” Pagenkopf said. “It’s kind of one of those things where you know it’s going to come, but it’s not going to be all you think it is unless you take care of business now. Everybody is focused on this and it feels good.”
After taking down Regis, the Trailblazers host Colorado Mesa on Friday night at 7 p.m. in the semifinals of the RMAC tournament. They beat Mesa twice during the regular season with both games being decided by six points or less.
“They’re a good team,” Judkins said. “They played us good here and we played really good over at their place. They’re tough because they have guys that can shoot it and they have a point guard that’s really smart and just kind of lets things go. We have to be ready, but I like our chances.”
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