ST. GEORGE – It was a nice welcome home for the Red Storm, though it didn’t look that way for awhile.
The No. 8-ranked Dixie State men’s basketball team returned to friendly confines of the Burns Arena for their conference home-opener Saturday afternoon. At halftime, the confines did not seem so friendly as DSU was looking at a 15-point deficit against a hot-shooting Point Loma Nazarene team. A frenetic second-half rally saved the day as Dixie beat the Sea Lions 84-82.
“In the first half, they came in and executed their game plan. They did whatever they wanted,” said Red Storm head coach Jon Judkins. “We only had six team fouls. We were not overly aggressive. When you play passively like that, you are going to get beat. We challenged our guys at halftime to attack the zone and to close out better defensively. We did a much better job in the second half.”
The Sea Lions shot 61 percent from the floor (67 percent from 3-point land) in the first half. They also had an 18-12 rebound margin over Dixie at halftime. Dixie’s DeQuan Thompson kept the Red Storm in range with 13 first-half points.
DSU held a 12-11 edge on two Kimball Payne free throws at the 14:56 mark. PLNU went on a 15-3 run sparked by two buckets each from Marek Klassen and A.J. Ussery. The Sea Lions led 26-15 at the 7:48 mark. The teams would trade baskets over the next six minutes and Dixie still faced a 10-point deficit with 1:25 to play in the half, 38-28. PLNU would tack on five more before halftime, though, with an inside power move from Junior Morgan and a strike from long range by Taylor Wetherell.
“Coach Judkins was fired up at halftime,” said Dixie’s Zach Robbins. “He made it clear that being ranked and playing at home did not guarantee a win. We increased our intensity level, attacking the zone inside-out and stiffening our defense.”
After an initial bucket by Morgan to open up the half with the Lions’ largest of the game (17), the Red Storm arose to Judkins’ challenge and began attacking. In just over three minutes, the lead was down to single digits. Payne and Robbins scored two baskets each and the Sea Lions led 48-40 at the 16:51 mark.
The teams would again trade scores over the next several minutes. Halfway through the second half saw Dixie narrow the deficit to four, 59-55, on a 3-pointer by Landon Clegg.
Another 3-pointer from Kimball Payne narrowed the margin to two, 62-60, with 7:50 left on the clock.
“Normally, I don’t have to score a lot of points for us to win,” said Payne. “We have several scorers on the team. But at halftime Coach Judkins told us to penetrate their zone to open up our 3-point shooters. And tonight I got a lot of open looks in the paint.”
After a Sea Lions foul, Robbie Nielson’s free throws brought Dixie back to even at 62-62.
The pressure from both teams intensified as they would continue to trade baskets. Dixie would extend the lead to four on three more occasions only to see the Sea Lions cut the lead on the next possession. A Dixie free throw from Dalton Groskreutz tied the game again at the 1:08 mark. The Sea Lions failed to score on their next possession and fouled Robbins at the other end.
Robbins connected on both free throws, making it 81-79. After another empty possession, the Sea Lions fouled Groskreutz. The senior from Snow Canyon connected on his two free throws and with nine seconds left, Dixie held an 83-79 advantage. Klassen banked in a 30-footer with five seconds left to narrow the lead to one. An immediate foul on Robbins put him at the line where he hit one of two. A desperation heave by Klassen was far off the mark and Dixie escaped with an 84-82 victory.
Klassen led all scorers with 18 points. Also for Point Loma, Hayden Lescault scored 16, Morgan 13 and Ussery 12.
PLNU falls to 6-4 (1-3 in Pac West). They will return home to host Notre Dame de Namur next Saturday.
Thompson and Payne shared scoring honors for Dixie at 17 apiece. Groskreutz and Robbins chipped in 15 apiece. Robbins also had six rebounds and four blocked shots
Dixie remains undefeated at 7-0, 3-0 in the Pac-West. The Red Storm will host a tournament at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on December 18-19. They will play California State University-Dominguez Hills Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. The following night they will play Montana State University-Billings at 7:30 p.m.
Stats via Dixie Athletics: DSU 84, PLNU 82
Dixie State Women’s Basketball
The Red Storm women’s basketball team lost a close one in their home opener, 73-67, to Point Loma Nazarene University.
The Red Storm (2-5,1-2) was led by Haley Holmstead with 23 points and Kaylah Miller with 20 points.
DSU took a 37-35 lead into halftime but was unable to sustain the lead in the second half. The Sea Lions’ Jessica Escorsa scored 17 points after intermission to help PLNU outscore DSU by eight points in the second half.
Point Loma shot 45 percent in the contest and held Dixie State to 34 percent shooting and just 24 percent from 3-point range (6-of-25). The Red Storm received nearly all their offense from Holmstead and Miller. Holmstead went 9 of 18 from the field and scored a team-high 23 points. Miller hit six treys.
Point Loma (4-4, 2-2 PWC) was led by Escorza, who had a game-high 25 points and added six rebounds.
Dixie State shot 34.2 percent from the field and 24 percent from 3-point range. PLNU connected at 45.5 percent and 31.6 from behind the arc. DSU outrebounded the Sea Lions 53-32.
Dixie State will play CSU Dominguez Hills on Wednesday Dec. 18 at 6 p.m. and Western Oregon on Thursday at 5 p.m. in the Las Vegas Challenge at the Orleans Arena.
Stats via DSU Athletics: PLNU 73, DSU 67
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