ST. GEORGE — After their Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference quarterfinals win over Regis, Dixie State head coach Jon Judkins talked about teams that don’t have anything to lose and their loose style of play. Colorado Mesa came into their semifinal matchup with the Trailblazers as the No. 10 seed in the south central region, and they had to win the RMAC tournament to get the automatic bid to the Division II Tournament if they wanted to keep playing.
The Mavericks had something to lose and they showed it with their urgency. Mesa ended up winning a close game, 86-79, over the host Trailblazers at Burns Arena, keeping their season alive.
“It was frustrating tonight,” Judkins said. “We had a good crowd and have a home court advantage, I just think we didn’t take advantage of it. I thought they were more physical than us, they were tougher than us and we just didn’t play one of our better games. Give them a lot of credit, I thought they played really well.”
Here’s how the national tournament for Division II works. Eight teams out of the region advance on to the tournament. With two conferences in the south central region – the Lone Star conference and the RMAC – there are only two automatic bids into the national tournament. If someone outside of the top eight in the region wins their conference tournament, there will be movement with regards to seedings but if the top teams continue to win there won’t be. Most of the movement, if any, will occur in the lower seeds.
The good news for 23-7 Dixie State is that they were the No. 3 seed coming into Friday’s semifinal matchup. Unless some crazy events take place, the Trailblazers should get an at-large bid into the national tournament and Judkins feels like they’ve earned it.
“I definitely do,” Judkins said. “This has been a good year for us. We lost some that we probably shouldn’t have but we beat some good teams and I think these guys deserve that.”
Last season, it was a similar story as the Trailblazers were knocked out in the first round of the RMAC tournament against New Mexico Highlands. The difference being, they were knocked out of the national tournament as a result of that loss.
” I don’t want to end this season like that,” Judkins said. “I hope that all of those teams that are in there keep winning to keep us where we’re at. Last year, it happened to us where we were waiting and we got knocked out so I’m hoping that third spot gives us a chance to get there.”
It is the last year for Dixie State in Division II and the RMAC, as the transition to Division I begins next season with the move to the Western Athletic Conference.
Senior Jack Pagenkopf did just about everything for the Trailblazers on Friday night. He finished with 32 points, 5 rebounds and 7 assists on the night and the ball was in his hands down the stretch.
The lead for Mesa grew to 11 with less than 14 minutes to go in the game and Pagenkopf almost single-handedly brought the Trailblazers back into the game. He had 25 points in the second half but it was not enough to get the win.
Judkins talked after the game about his team watching Pagenkopf a little too much. It seemed as if that was the case. The Trailblazers were relying on Pagenkopf to make all of the plays down the stretch and he was. He just couldn’t do it by himself.
Normally, the Trailblazers have a very balanced scoring attack, with multiple players in double figures, but that was not the case against Mesa. The next highest scorer after Pagenkopf was Hunter Schofield, who had 12 points. Everybody else contributed single digit scoring.
“I didn’t want to lose. We’re at home and we had a bunch of people here,” Pagenkopf said. “I try to pass as much as I can but I had the ball in my hands, I had to make a play. We were right on the edge of that double-digit, we were down like eight or nine and we can’t get down 10. I tried my best to get us back into that one possession range and I think it worked a couple times, we just couldn’t get over it.”
Mesa (20-10) shot a stellar 58.3% from the field and 53.3% from deep to knock off the host Trailblazers and they will take on Colorado School of Mines (22-9) in the RMAC tournament championship at 7 p.m. in Burns Arena Saturday with a berth to the NCAA Division II national tournament on the line.
For the Trailblazers, they will have to wait and see where the selection committee will seed them. The Division II selection show will air on Sunday at 8:30 p.m. MT and Dixie State will be watching with hope that their stellar season was enough to earn them an at-large bid.
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