Dixie State gave Division I foe Utah Valley all it wanted and more, but a strong Wolverine second half proved to be too much as the Trailblazers dropped their 2017-18 exhibition opener by an 81-70 count at the UCCU Center on Thursday night.
DSU used a pair of big first-half runs to not only stay within striking distance of the Wolverines but also take a 44-33 lead into the halftime break. UVU opened up a 17-11 lead midway through the opening frame, but the Trailblazers rattled off an 11-4 spurt to erase the deficit to take a 22-21 advantage on a Kyler Nielson breakaway lay-in with 8:18 remaining until halftime. Austin Montgomery scored five points during that stretch and got a pair of key stops on the defensive end to help key the rally.
The two teams seesawed back and forth, and UVU looked as if it would steal back the momentum after a Ben Nakwaasah 3-pointer gave the Wolverines a 29-26 lead. However, that was the last time the Wolverines would lead in the stanza as Dixie State scored six-straight points as part of an 18-4 run to close the half, with Nielson providing the exclamation point with a 3-pointer from the left wing at the buzzer.
DSU’s defense held UVU without a field goal during the final six-plus minutes of the half, while the Trailblazer bench accounted for 10 of DSU’s 18 points in the run, including seven quick points from freshman Tarik Cool.
The second half brought about a role reversal for the Trailblazers as UVU locked Dixie State down to start the frame. The Wolverines tallied the first eight points of the half and outscored DSU, 20-4, on their way to regaining the lead at 53-48 at the 10:30 mark after a Conner Toolson 3-pointer. UVU held Dixie State to just 1-of-11 shooting to start the half and forced seven DSU miscues in that stretch.
Dixie State managed to stay close with its next couple of possessions as Dub Price hit a jumper and Wade Miller connected on a pair of treys, the second of which gave the Trailblazers the lead back at 56-55 with 8:47 to play.
That would mark the final time DSU led on the night as Utah Valley went on a decisive 18-2 run to extend to a 73-58 advantage with four minutes to play.
Cool finished with a team-high 14 points off the bench on 6-of-12 shooting with two 3-pointers, while Nielson tallied 11 points, though he was held scoreless in the second half. After shooting 55.2 percent (16-of-29) in the first half, DSU was held to just 9-of-32 in the second half to finish at a 41.0 clip (25-of-61) for the game, while the Trailblazers were outrebounded, 38-32, including a 26-13 count in the second half.
“We played pretty well in the first half, and we were being really aggressive on the offensive end,” DSU head coach Jon Judkins said. “However, we played a little too soft in the second half, and we could not get any shots to fall. But give UVU credit on how they tightened up on us defensively. We can take a lot away from this game to help us prepare to open the [regular] season next week."
UVU’s Akolda Manyang led all scorers with 19 points, 15 of which came in the second half to help spur the comeback, while Brandon Randolph and Toolson chipped in 14 points apiece. UVU shot 57.1 percent (16-of-28) in the second half and finished at 48.1 percent for the game (26-of-54).
Dixie State will close out its two-game exhibition schedule at home Friday vs. Whittier College in the Burns Arena starting at 5 p.m.
Steve Johnson is the Associate Athletic Director for Media Relations and Collegiate Licensing at Dixie State University. For more DSU Athletics news, please visit www.dixieathletics.com and follow Dixie State on Twitter at @DixieAthletics.