The Dixie State University men’s basketball team was buried at the buzzer after spending much of its Pacific West Conference tournament game trying to dig itself out of a 20-point hole.
Despite a furious comeback, the No. 3 ranked Trailblazers were upset 71-69 Thursday against No. 6 Point Loma Nazarene University. The loss put DSU’s NCAA tournament hopes in jeopardy.
The first half was as close as it was competitive. Through the first eight minutes of the opening half, DSU held a 17-15 lead. The Sea Lions responded with an 8-0 to take a 23-17 lead. Junior forward Zac Hunter cut the deficit to two pints with under five minutes left.
PLNU responded with a 9-0 run to take its biggest lead of the game. DSU was down 39-30 at the half.
The Trailblazers began the second half of this win-or-go-home game with far less intensity. Within five minutes of the second-half, PLNU had built an 18-point lead. With under 13 minutes remaining, DSU trailed 58-38.
“Even though we were down 20, we were confident we could come back,” said junior forward Kyler Nielson, a criminal justice major from Cedar City. “We made shots down the stretch and flew around on defense, but we just dug too deep of a hole to be able to win.”
Head coach Jon Judkins picked up a technical foul amidst the Sea Lion onslaught with the intention of awakening his team from the untimely slumber.
“I took that technical to try and fire my guys up, and I think it did get them going a little bit,” Judkins said. “We started to play a lot harder on both ends of the floor and that got us right back into the game.”
Suddenly, DSU came alive led by junior guard Trevor Hill. Hill scored 11 straight points for the Trailblazers, capped off by an alley-oop slam dunk to trim the deficit to 62-49.
DSU continued its quest for a comeback on the heels of a 14-7 run. Down six with under two minutes to play, Nielson and Hunter hit back-to-back 3-pointers to tie the game 69-69 with just 29 seconds to play.
“It was a simple drive and kick to the corner and I was able to knock down the shot,” said Hunter, a finance major from American Fork. “The momentum shifted and we felt really good about our chances if we got a stop.”
The Sea Lions held for the final shot. PLNU missed a layup with time running out, but were able to tip home the game-winner with under one second left to play to stave off the DSU come back and complete the upset victory.
“We came out passive tonight,” Judkins said. “I am proud of our players for not giving up, and I knew we could have won the game if we had got it to overtime.”
DSU lost despite outrebounding PLNU by 14, including a 19-4 edge on the offensive glass. Hill led all DSU scorers with 17 points, 15 coming in the second-half.
Because of the loss, DSU had to wait until Sunday evening to know whether or not it was selected to the NCAA DII tournament.
The team and staff gathered together with the hope that the selection committee could provide good news. Cheers rang out across the room as the selection show displayed the Trailblazers included in the big dance.
As the No. 8 seed in the West Region, DSU will take on top seeded University of California-San Diego in La Jolla, California, Saturday at 8:30 p.m.