Dixie State men’s basketball faced a little madness of its own this March with two tournament games and a heart-breaking, buzzer-beating finish.
After winning a Pacific West Conference title, beating four nationally ranked opponents and breaking numerous records, the Dixie State men’s basketball team finished off the season earlier this month.
The 2014-15 season started off slow as DSU struggled to string wins together and stood at 4-4 just a couple of weeks into the season.
Junior guard Robbie Nielson, a business administration major from Gresham, Oregon, was admittedly worried about the beginning of the year.
“Honestly, with that kind of start, I was nervous,” Nielson said. “A lot of people were, but we started to play more together and really started to mesh on and off the court.”
The togetherness Nielson is talking about was never more prevalent than it was when the team took a 10-day trip to Hawaii over winter break, a trip that head coach Jon Judkins said was unequivocally the most important stretch of the season.
“If you can go on that Hawaii road trip and win the majority of your games, it can really turn your season around,” Judkins said. “For us, something started to click in Hawaii, and we really got going.”
Nielson said the trip had a similar effect for the team.
“On long trips like that, we spend so much time together that we learn to get along and just be ourselves around each other,” Nielson said. “It keeps things a little lighter so we aren’t so up tight, which helps a lot.”
While in the Aloha State, the Storm won their final two games by beating Chaminade and Brigham Young University-Hawaii. At the time, BYU-H was sitting atop the PacWest at 10-1 and ranked No. 18 in the nation. DSU outscored the Seasiders by 21 points in the second half en route to a 92-81 victory.
Following the exciting comeback win, DSU would face its toughest competition of the season in No. 13 ranked Azusa Pacific and No. 10 ranked Cal Baptist.
Azusa came into the game riding the longest winning-streak in Division II, 14 games. The game finished in a wild overtime when DSU scored 18 points in the extra period and fended off a 39-point outing from PacWest Player of the Year, Troy Leaf. DSU won 97-91.
Next, DSU welcomed No. 10 CBU to Burns Arena. Cal Baptist came into the matchup without a conference loss, but that was about to change. Dixie came out firing and shot 50 percent from the field on the day. Four players scored in double-figures, and DSU won its third consecutive game against a ranked opponent, 82-79.
DSU then lost to APU on the road before going on another win streak. The Storm went on to win their next eight games, solidifying their spot a top the PacWest. With one game remaining in the regular season, against Point Loma Nazarene, DSU was tied with APU for the conference lead.
The game against PLNU would be host to senior night at Burns Arena, when DSU honored the four seniors that will be moving on after this season: Guard DeQuan Thompson, center Zach Robbins, center Jordan Rex and guard Connor Van Brocklin. Thompson and Robbins played an integral part on this season’s team, while Rex and Van Brocklin had seasons plagued with injuries.
DSU controlled the game from start to finish, winning the game and the conference title in a 76-60 contest. The win clinched a share of the team’s fifth conference championship in the last six years, making DSU the only team in Division II basketball to do so.
“After the way we started the year, if you would’ve told me we would go on to win the conference title, I would’ve told you that you were crazy,” Jon Judkins said.
The Storm clinched the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament and would face BYU-H once again. The Seasiders put on an offensive clinic, shooting 55 percent from the field and knocking down 11 of 24 from beyond the arc on the way to a 98-75 win over DSU.
Despite the loss, Dixie received an at-large bid into the NCAA DII tournament as a 4-seed. It would face the No. 1 defense in the nation and the same team that knocked it out of the tournament two of the last four years, Cal Poly Pomona.
A tight contest throughout, DSU found itself down three with 20 seconds to go when junior forward Mark Ogden Jr. stepped into a game-tying long ball. It was Ogden’s only 3-pointer made or attempted on the season.
On the ensuing possession, Terrance Drisdom stuck a dagger deep into the hearts of Storm faithful. With the game tied, Drisdom drove to the middle of the lane, and despite the tough defense from freshman guard Trevor Hill, hit an off-balance leaner as time expired to lift the Lions to victory.
“There’s nothing you could do about that shot,” Thompson, a senior communication major from Las Vegas, said. “It doesn’t take away from the great year we had as a team. There’s no one I would trade for the guys I played with.”
Judkins said he couldn’t be more proud of his team.
“I challenged my guys to get a little better every single day, and I can honestly say that they did that,” Judkins said. “We had an awesome run.”
The Storm finished off the season 20-8 overall, and will retain all but two of its contributing players. However, the two leaving are the top two all-time in DSU scoring in Thompson and Robbins. Thompson, Robbins and junior guard Mason Sawyer all earned All-PacWest selections for their play this season. Robbins was named as an honorable mention on the Diviosion II All-American list.
“Had some awesome memories here,” Thompson said. “My favorite was probably when Juddy [Judkins] got mad at BYU-H a couple years ago. He slapped himself and passed out on the court. Best times of my life, man”
Despite the tough end to the season, Nielson remains optimistic about the programs future.
“We didn’t finish how we wanted, and we will use that as motivation,” Nielson said. “We will come back next fall and continue to build Dixie State into a championship program.”