ST. GEORGE — Providence, a small NAIA school in Montana, came into Friday’s game as the No. 12 team in NAIA Division I. They showed it against the Trailblazers as they played hard, pulling out a big road win, 80-76.
For the Trailblazers, they struggled with the zone defense that Providence played, but when they did start to get some baskets they could not string together stops down the stretch. With Providence being an NAIA school, this game was an exhibition, so it will not count towards the Trailblazers’ overall schedule.
“I thought we started the game very well,” head coach Jon Judkins said. “We got up by 10, we made some subs, and our attitude kind of changed, our energy kind of dropped. I just felt like we came out a little bit like, ‘these guys aren’t supposed to do this, we should win this game,’ instead of going and taking it. Give them a lot of credit, they played extremely hard.”
The struggles with the zone came as a little bit of a surprise to Judkins, as he said the team played well in practice against the zone all week. He was unhappy with the ball movement around the perimeter of the zone. At times, the Trailblazers just swung the ball around the perimeter with no penetration. When they did get the ball inside, they got open looks but were unable to put the ball in the basket.
“We had some really good looks, we just missed them,” Judkins said. “I thought our bigs at the high post, I thought our short corners, they were open and they were tentative. I thought we were hesitant on a lot of stuff and when you do that you’re going to miss open shots.”
Dixie came out of the gates firing, leading by 10 just four minutes into the game. It looked as if the Trailblazers were going to walk away with an easy victory. That changed quickly, with Dixie State scoring only 12 points in the final 10 minutes of the first half. The Trailblazers followed that up by only scoring 16 points in the first 10 minutes of the second half.
This is where Providence extended their lead into double figures, with the largest lead being 14 at the six-minute mark.
Dixie started making a run with about four minutes left in the game. They were putting full-court pressure on the Providence ball handlers, and it all climaxed with a massive Hunter Schofield and one dunk. The energy in Burns Arena was electric as Dixie was only down one, 75-74.
The Trailblazers started fouling to stop the clock and ultimately had the ball down three with about 18 seconds left on the clock. Jack Pagenkopf brought the ball up the court but elected to shoot a fadeaway two-point shot with his team down three. Judkins was not happy with the shot selection, but the senior guard played a big role in the game and the comeback effort. He finished with 19 points and eight rebounds on the night.
“He’s our senior, he’s our point guard, the ball is going to be in his hands 90% of the time so we expect him to do that,” Judkins said. “I thought he had a spark. He had a couple of really good looks tonight on the break that he normally hits.”
Judkins brought up the Trailblazers’ inability to guard the ball. The Trailblazers big men were jumping at every head fake, the guards had trouble keeping guys in front of them and they got beat off the dribble. Providence outscored Dixie by 12 points in the paint and they were a much smaller team than the Trailblazers.
“That’s what wins games, it’s the little things,” Judkins said. “It’s not how you start, it’s not how you finish, it’s the whole game. I felt like somebody was waiting for somebody else to do it and we can’t do that.”
After a tough loss, Dixie takes on Saint Martin’s University today. Saint Martin’s made the Division II west regional finals last season and finished 26-6. With a new head coach and a number of new players on their team, they are not the same team as last year, but they do have some impressive guard play in their game against Westminster.
Saint Martin’s played zone defense for their entire game against Westminster on Friday, so one would assume that the Trailblazers will be seeing more of the zone defense that they struggled with against Providence.
“Saint Martin’s is a very good team and they had a tough loss so they’ll be hungry and ready to play,” Judkins said. “It’s going to be a war, no question.”
Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m. from Burns Arena on Saturday, as the Trailblazers look to bounce back against Saint Martin’s.
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