It didn't take long for Dixie State to show its exuberance.
Prior to Wednesday's 83-64 loss to Utah in the Huntsman Center, freshman Landon Clegg drew a technical foul for dunking the ball during warm-ups.
Thanks to a pair of free throws by Tyler Kepkay of the Utes, the slam put the Rebels in a 2-0 deficit before the opening tipoff.
It didn't, however, curb Dixie State's enthusiasm or determine the outcome.
The Rebels still enjoyed their first game against Utah in more than 79 years.
"It was a lot of fun. A lot of us are from Utah, and we grew up watching these guys play," said Snow Canyon alum Ben Hartman, who finished with a team-high 18 points. "It's a great stadium. It's a good atmosphere."
Dixie State coach Jon Judkins agreed. He noted that the Huntsman Center, with its championship banners and such, provided a great environment for his team.
The Rebels, who played at the junior college level before becoming an NCAA Division II program two years ago, gave a determined effort in their first meeting with the Utes since a 41-26 setback in Salt Lake City on Dec. 13, 1928.
The St. George-based program has 10 former Utah high school players on its roster, and Judkins said that plenty of family and fans were on hand to watch the rare in-state meeting.
Hartman pointed out that there were several other familiar faces in the arena as well.
"We know a lot of these guys from high school and stuff," Hartman said. "So it's fun to play against them and see how we match up and compete with them."
Dixie State held an early 4-2 lead and knotted the score at 14-14 on a jumper by Troy Randall with 12:08 remaining in the first half. The Rebels never regained an advantage, but they did stay close for the next 8 1/2 minutes, closing the gap to 26-25 at one point.
A turnover, though, ended the rally and ignited a Utah run that put the game out of reach. The Utes outscored the Rebels 12-4 during the decisive stretch to take a 38-29 halftime lead.
Utah eventually extended its edge to 23 points late in the second half.
"I wish it could have been a little closer. In the first half, I thought we played 15 minutes the way we wanted to everything was working out," Judkins said. "Then we had a couple of dumb mistakes that led to dunks and some easy baskets that kind of turned the game around."But Utah is a very good team. They're going to do well in the Mountain West. I really believe that," he added. "But I was proud of my kids and how hard they played. They didn't quit. They didn't back down. They rebounded with them. They did everything we wanted them to do. What a great learning experience for our guys."
REBEL NOTES: Dixie State outrebounded Utah 14-10 in the first half and the two teams wound up splitting 46 boards by game's end. ... Senior center Kasey Winters, who leads the Rebels in scoring, is the grandson of former boxing champion Gene Fullmer. ... Dixie State is 0-2 against MWC teams this season. UNLV defeated the Rebels, 97-66 in an exhibition game at the Thomas & Mack Center on Nov. 13.
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