ST. GEORGE – The Burns Arena played host to some basketball for the first time this season Friday for the Dixie State Classic as Dixie State ran away with the game against Concordia (Ore.), 91-56.
The Red Storm had some early season struggles in the first half, but seemed to work most of them out at halftime as they dominated the second half. DSU head coach Jon Judkins was happy with the win.
“I thought, in the second half, we really focused defensively and got after it,” he said. “That led to easy baskets and that’s when it started opening up. Then we started to go back inside more. This team’s fun. It’s fun to coach. I love the hustle and I love how they do the things we ask them to do.”
The Red Storm only led 37-33 at halftime and struggled shooting with a field goal percentage of only 35 percent.
“I thought we saw a little nervousness because it’s our first game,” Judkins said. “Some of the freshmen and some of the (junior college) transfer guys didn’t know what to expect. Once they calmed down, I thought it was better. I thought we jumped out and played well defensively. Then, I think we got a little tired. We started to gamble and not be in the right positions. Give (the Cavaliers) credit, they started driving and getting some easy baskets. I thought we did a good job.”
The Red Storm came out rolling in the second half as Mason Sawyer led the way with 19 points. Eleven of his points came in the second half, where DSU shot 62 percent as a team from the field.
“I think the offense picked up because of the defense,” Sawyer said. “We were able to defend well. They shot tough shots, and we were able to rebound and go. A lot of our easy buckets came in transition or we got to the foul line. Our defense led to our offense.”
The defense improved significantly, holding the Cavaliers to shooting 30 percent from the floor and allowing only 23 points throughout the second half.
“(At halftime, Judkins) made a big emphasis on going over the things we worked on in practice,” Sawyer said. “(Things like) fundamental defense, jumping to the ball and just communicating and being there for each other, and playing team defense. That’s really what helped us to keep them at such a low shooting percentage.”
Even with a 35-point win, Judkins wasn’t impressed with everything the team did.
“We made a lot of mistakes, but what do you expect when it’s early?” Judkins said. “We’ve gotta work on foul shooting though — oh my word! We’re better than that. We want to shoot high 70s to low 80s — that’s our goal. We missed two at a time. We gotta get to the foul line and we just gotta practice them. We gotta get there in the gym and shoot.”
Robbie Nielson and Trevor Hill both scored 15 points and Zac Hunter added 13 more. Two players, Hill and Josh Fuller, nearly had a double-double. Hill finished with nine assists, and Fuller ended the game with 14 rebounds and nine points.
“If you’ve looked at my teams the last 11 years, we always have those three or four guys that are about that 15, 16, 17 (point) range,” Judkins said. “We never have one guy that has like 30. It tells me they’re really sharing the ball and will find the open guy.”
For the Cavaliers, Latrell Wilson led the team with 16, and Drew Martin added 11 more. Wilson scored 13 of his 16 points in the first half, but Nielson was given the job of playing the defense on him, and helped slow his scoring in the second half.
“We knew (Wilson) was a great shooter and a great player that can score from watching film,” Nielson said. “We just didn’t understand fully in the first half, but we were able to adjust. That’s the great thing about basketball is that there are two halves. We were just able to adjust in the second (half) and make him do things that he didn’t want to do. (We made him) dribble, and we tried to get the ball out of his hands.”
DSU will play Seattle Pacific Saturday in the Dixie State Classic. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
“We owe (Seattle Pacific) one from last year,” Sawyer said. “We got up big on them last year, and they came back and beat us. We’ve got a lot of respect for them. We play them every year. They’re really good. They’re kind of like us — really fundamental and play well as a team.”
Stats: DSU 91, Concordia 56
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