‘Icing on a big cake’: Dixie State opens Division I era with win

ST. GEORGE — A 50-point second half gave the Dixie State men’s basketball team a comeback win to begin their Division I era on Wednesday night, topping the North Dakota Fighting Hawks 74-73 at Burns Arena.

After delays due to COVID-19, the Trailblazers had to wait for an extra five days after their home opener against Weber State was canceled due to a positive test in its program. Finally, there was nothing in the way to obstruct Division I sports from starting in St. George.

“It’s an experience we’ll never forget, because we made history,” guard Frank Staine said. “For me personally, I’m fulfilling my dreams of playing Division I. To do that and get the first win is like icing on a big cake that I never could’ve imagined.”

The Trailblazers survived a rocky first half, in which they shot only 35.7% for 24 points and turned the ball over 10 times. They were out-boarded by North Dakota both offensively and defensively and committed 10 fouls. The Fighting Hawks shot 44.4% from the field with three from the arc to compensate for 10 turnovers of their own to carry a five-point lead into the half, 29-24.

The Fighting Hawks stretched out the lead in the early stages of the second half, scoring 13 points in the first five minutes to go up 42-33.

Frank Staine and Cameron Gooden took charge from that point, combining to contribute to the Trailblazers’ next 10 points to pull the team within one. Staine scored 14 points of his team-leading 19 on the day and two assists in the second half, while Gooden scored nine and played an integral role opening up holes in the North Dakota defense. Jacob Nicolds scored 17 points with eight rebounds to lead the Trailblazers’ efforts in the post.

Guard Frank Staine holds the ball in Dixie State basketball’s home opener and introduction to Division I against North Dakota at Burns Arena, St. George, Utah, Dec. 2, 2020 | Photo by Rich Allen, St. George News

Staine danced his way just outside of the key into an open jumper, drawing the and-one as well. He hit the free throw to put Dixie up 53-50 with 9:05 to go to give Dixie its first three-point lead of the game. He also drew a foul 30 seconds later and hit both of those free throws. The Trailblazers scored the next four points to stretch the run to nine in a row and 10 of 11 straight to build their lead to 10.

A charge by the Hawks’ Mitchell Sueker gave Dixie the ball with 30.7 to go and a five-point lead. The Hawks sent Staine to the line, who missed the free throw but retained possession on the rebound to draw another foul, and landed both of those free shots to stretch the lead to seven.

Another Staine free throw sealed the deal, making a three-point buzzer beater from North Dakota’s Caleb Nero irrelevant.

The game was the first sporting event on Dixie’s campus as a member of the Western Athletic Conference and only second overall, following a swim meet at BYU on Nov. 7. Dixie watched on as its fall sports pushed to the spring, including football, cross-country, volleyball and soccer.

As good as it felt to finally start competition, there is still room for improvement. While the Trailblazers scratched out the win, head coach Jon Judkins — who has as much reason to celebrate the achievement as anybody, having coached the team for 16 years starting at the junior college level — says he saw some things the team needs to work on as they go on to face the toughest teams college basketball has to offer.

“It felt really good,” Judkins said. “Very happy with the win. School history, being the first one to get a Division I win is something these guys will never forget, and we’re going to get better.”

DSU takes the Burns Arena court again on Saturday, hosting the University of Saint Katherine before playing four of its next five games on the road. Tip off is 2 p.m. The school is allowing up to 1,000 fans per game, but is not selling individual tickets.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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