Southern Utah pulls out thriller in first ever D1 matchup against Dixie State

Southern Utah basketball's John Knight III slams the ball on an alley oop from Tevian Jones in the team's game against Dixie State at home, Cedar City, Utah, Dec. 17, 2020 | Photo by Rich Allen, St. George/Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY — Despite being within 60 miles of each other, the first Division I matchup between Dixie State University and Southern Utah University in men’s basketball took place Thursday night. The game was an instant classic. It featured six lead changes and seven ties before SUU ultimately pulled out the 85-78 victory.

Dixie State basketball’s Hunter Schofield and Southern Utah’s Tevian Jones scramble for a ball in the teams’ matchup at America First Event Center, Cedar City, Utah, Dec. 17, 2020 | Photo by Rich Allen, St. George/Cedar City News

Dixie started hot out of the gate, taking eight of the game’s first 10 points. The Blazers stretched the lead out to 10 points at 17-7 at the 13:46 mark, using five different scorers to get there. It was the team’s largest lead in the game.

Slowly, SUU started to chip away. Then Tevian Jones hit a three to give the Thunderbirds the lead at 29-27. As fouls and substitutions began to pile up for Dixie, the teams traded blows to a 34-34 tie at the 4:19 mark.

The Thunderbirds took over as the half began to close, taking 11 of 13 points in the last four minutes. John Knight III, who already had a dunk and six points earlier in the game, hit a layup with 23 seconds left, then stole the ball in his own end, stormed down the court and slammed it home just 21 seconds later to secure the 45-36 lead at the half.

As Knight went in the second half, so did the Thunderbirds. He slammed the ball on an alley-oop from Jones, blocked a shot emphatically in his own end, took an and-one on a drive through the paint and hit a straightaway three, all in the first 10 minutes of the frame.

As the Thunderbirds began to find their rhythm on offense, Dixie continued their foul trouble, reaching the bonus mark less than seven minutes into the second half. The Trailblazers persevered, coming back to tie and knot the game after Isaiah Pope landed both his free throws granted from going down hard trying to drive the net at the 8:29 mark. His second shot gave Dixie a 62-61 lead, its first since the first half, and culminating a 10-point scoring spree.

The teams traded leads over the next several minutes. Harrison Butler hit a pair of free throws for SUU, and Jacob Nicolds sank a three down the left side to make it 67-65.

After Butler missed a dunk on a fastbreak, Aanen Moody cleaned it up from downtown to put SUU up 71-70 with 3:43 to go. Moody sank another three on the next possession, and Jones followed it up with a 3-pointer of his own shortly after to build the lead to seven. The deficit held there, and with both teams in the double bonus, SUU went into time killing mode, and Dixie couldn’t overcome the deficit.

Cameron Gooden led Dixie with 16 points, followed by Nicolds with 15 and Frank Staine with 13. Staine recorded a double-double with 10 boards.

Knight scored 22 points, going 9-for-10 from the field with three rebounds and five assists. Jones scored 17 points.

Just weeks into the season, both teams already had Player of the Week honors in their conferences. Nicolds took the WAC’s on Dec. 7, and SUU saw Fausett and Jones named it back-to-back in the Big Sky on Dec. 7 and Dec. 14.

It took more than half a century for the two programs to meet for the first time, but it might not be long before they tangle again, to the tune of two matchups a year. The Thunderbirds released an announcement on Dec. 9 that they received a formal invitation to join the Western Athletic Conference, as St. George News previously reported.

Dixie drops its first game since moving to Division I, with a 3-1 record. It plays next on Saturday, taking on Bethesda College at home. The Blazers were originally slated to play SAGU-American Indian on Saturday, but COVID-19 protocols in that program caused it to be rescheduled.

The T-Birds improve to 4-1. SUU also had its game with SAGU canceled, originally tabbed for Friday. In a replacement game, SUU will play Bethesday Friday at 7 p.m., then face the Flames again for their regularly scheduled meeting on Monday.

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

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