For most DSU students, the weeks around Christmas and New Years are relaxing, no class, no studies, and for many of us, nothing at all.
But that wasn’t the case for the men’s basketball team, which headed for the 2014 Las Vegas Challenge. DSU came out firing on all cylinders against Seattle Pacific University and was able to hold a 17-2 advantage just eight minutes into the game. The quick start was not a sign of things to come, as the hot shooting of SPU quickly erased the Storm lead.
Senior guard DeQuan Thompson posted 22 points in front of his hometown crowd, but that wouldn’t be enough. Dixie State tried to rally back late but fell short 76-66.
Another hot start ignited the Storm in the final game of the challenge, but this time, they would be able hang on. Junior forward Mark Ogden Jr. scored a game-high 18 in the 67-62 victory over Saint Martin’s University.
The Storm returned home for two games to open up Pacific West Conference play. First, Ogden Jr. led DSU to a blowout win of Holy Names University. Ogden finished the game with 18 points on nine of nine shooting, the second most field goals without a miss in Dixie State history (first was Steven Larson in 2012, with 11 of 11).
The second and final game of the home-stand was much of the same; a balanced offensive attack led the Storm to a 93-70 victory over Academy of Art. Five players scored in double figures, only the third time in DSU history: senior forward Zach Robbins, 23, junior point guard Mason Sawyer, 17, Thompson, 16, Nielson, 13 and freshman forward Zac Hunter, 11.
After a quick New Year’s break, the Storm traveled to the Aloha State, hoping to bring a storm of their own to three tough match ups against conference foes.
Unfortunately, a heat wave was not in the forecast for DSU against Hawaii-Hilo. Dixie shot just 18 percent from the field in the first half and was scoreless for the last eight minutes. Sawyer fueled a second-half comeback that fell just short. DSU dropped one to the Vulcans 83-75 in overtime.
Doing a great job of bouncing back from losses all year, the Storm are 5-0 in games following a loss this season. It looked as if that would change against Chaminade, when the Silverswords rode the 3-ball in the first half and got out to a 48-40 lead entering the intermission.
Another hot shooting night from Ogden Jr. led the Storm back. Ogden was eight of nine from the field and netted a career-high 22 points in the 86-83 victory.
Head coach Jon Judkins emphasized that being more aggressive keyed the comeback.
“We had a much better effort in the second half,” Judkins said. “It was huge for us to get to the foul line and stop settling for jumpshots.”
In the final game of the long break, DSU would face longtime rival BYU Hawaii. BYU-H came into the game ranked No. 18 in the country and tied for the PacWest lead. The game started just as the last two had, and BYU-H was hot from the moment of tip-off.
Pablo Coro hit six from distance in the first half, and the Storm were faced with yet another halftime deficit.
DSU finally seemed to find its legs when Thompson and Freshman guard Trevor Hill each threw down highlight dunks. Once again, the Storm had five guys in double-figures: Robbins, 26, Thompson, 23, Ogden Jr., 18, Hill, 11 and Sawyer, 10.
After Dixie State captured the lead, it leaned on clutch free throw shooting to lead to victory. As a team, DSU shot 34 of 39 from the stripe to stave off the Seasiders wave of a run and came out victorious 92-81.
DSU trailed by double-digits in each of the three games in Hawaii but escaped with a 2-1 record. Ogden Jr. attributed the improved play to the team building chemistry on the trip to the islands. Hill earned PacWest Conference freshman player of the week for his performance in Hawaii.
“We are learning to play with each other, learning each others tendencies.” said Ogden Jr., a junior business major from Spring Valley California.
DSU, 9-5, 6-2 in PacWest play, has eight days off before facing the big challenge of the top two teams in the PacWest, both at Burns Arena, Azusa Pacific, 13-1, on Saturday and California Baptist, 12-1, on Monday.