VERMILLION, S.D. – Utah Valley University trailed only twice, but the second time was for good in a 71-67 defeat at South Dakota on Monday. Zach Nelson led UVU with career highs of 16 points and 13 rebounds, while Ben Aird added a season high 18 and Holton Hunsaker dropped in 15.
The Wolverines (2-5) led 64-57 before the Coyotes (3-3) went on a decisive 12-0 run before Hunsaker hit a three with six seconds left, cutting the USD lead to 69-67. Brandon Bos made a pair of free throws to ice it for South Dakota.
“We played our hearts out. I couldn’t say enough good things about the team right now with the way they came into this game and how hard they played,” head coach Dick Hunsaker said. “We had a couple of times down the stretch that we didn’t finish and a couple of untimely turnovers, but we have character and fight and the kids will keep getting better and improving.”
UVU did not trail until Trevor Gruis capped a 7-0 run on a reverse layup with 13:37 left, giving USD a 46-44 advantage. Aird came right back with a bucket to tie it, and Hunsaker followed with a 3-pointer to give UVU at 49-46 advantage.
Up 55-51, Eli Robison tipped in a miss to push the lead to six, and Hunsaker later twice extended it to seven points, including 64-57 before the Coyotes made their run. Bos scored four — on two free throws and a layup — to make it 64-63 with 2:18 left in the game, and Eric Robertson later gave South Dakota the lead for good with a put back.
In addition to his double-double, Nelson finished with three blocks and three assists, while Hunsaker had a team-high six assists. Aird pulled down eight boards for Utah Valley as well.
In the first half, Hunsaker scored on a free-throw line jumper late in the shot clock, and Keawe Enos hit a three in transition after a Nelson block to put UVU in front, 10-5, before the first timeout. Nelson hit a three — the team’s third trey of the first half — to extend it to 15-7 Wolverines. Aird then fed Nelson for a bucket that gave Utah Valley a 10-point lead, 17-7, its largest of the half.
The Coyotes quickly trimmed into that lead and tied it at 21-21 after five straight from Tyler Larson — on a 3-pointer and a running layup — with 8:15 left in the first half. The Wolverines never trailed but the teams played the rest of the half even, going in the break tied at 35.
Nelson had 10 points and six rebounds in the first half to lead both teams, and both teams shot north of 50 percent in the first 20 minutes.
For the game, the teams shot nearly identical percentage: UVU hit 48.2 percent and USD shot 48.1 percent. South Dakota got to the line 20 more times than Utah Valley, hitting 16-of-28, while the Wolverines were just 6-of-8 from the line. Bos led three South Dakota players in double figures with 15 points, hitting all six of his free throw attempts.
The Wolverines will be home for the first time since Nov. 11, when they host NAIA St. Katherine on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. in the UCCU Center. UVU will face two in-state foes next week when Weber State comes to Orem on Dec. 7, before traveling to Utah State on Dec. 14.
Clint Burgi is the assistant athletic director for sports information at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.