ST. GEORGE — Brandon Simister led four Trailblazers in double figures with 19 points as Dixie State pushed its winning streak to three-straight with an 88-73 Pacific West Conference victory over Azusa Pacific Saturday afternoon in the Burns Arena.
It was a game of runs through the first 30 minutes of play as DSU (5-4/2-0 PacWest) saw an early 5-0 lead evaporate, thanks to 12-straight Cougar points, including 10 off the hot hand of forward Petar Kutlesic, as APU bolted to a 12-5 advantage. The Trailblazers then scored 12 of the next 17 points to draw even at 17-17 after an Austin Montgomery dunk. DSU regained the lead at 20-17 the next time down the court on a Trevor Hill conventional 3-point play as the senior banked in a leaner in the lane and converted on the free throw midway through the opening frame.
Azusa Pacific (6-5/2-1 PacWest) responded with eight-straight points over a two-minute span on a Kutlesic lay-in and back-to-back 3-pointers from Corey Langerveld and Will Ferris to vault back in front 25-20, with 8:55 to go until the half.
From there it was all Trailblazers as Dixie State closed the stanza with a 21-6 run and took a 41-31 lead into the locker room. Brandon Miller and Simister kick-started the rally with consecutive buckets, while Dub Price scored nine of his career-high 13 first-half points in the rally.
Dixie State kept the momentum to begin the second half as the Trailblazers scored the first seven points of the frame, extending their run to 28-6 over an 11:07 span, to race to a 48-31 lead. Trevor Hill accounted for DSU’s first four points, highlighted by an alley-oop dunk on a Kyler Nielson feed to open the scoring, while Zac Hunter hit a layup and free throw to stake DSU to its biggest lead of the game with 17:40 to go.
Kutlesic broke Azusa Pacific’s near-six-minute scoring drought the next time down with a layup, which sparked a 9-0 Cougar spurt that pulled APU to within eight at 48-40 after a Mandrell Worthy jumper with 14:41 remaining.
However that would be as close as the Cougars would get as Dixie State countered with a decisive 15-6 run over the next five-plus minutes to take a 17-point lead at 63-46 with 8:59 to play. The Trailblazers never looked back.
Simister scored 12 of his 19 points in the second half and finished with a season-high seven assists. The senior hit 5 of 9 from the floor and had 8 of 8 at the foul line. Hill added 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting and 5 of 5 at the charity stripe to go with six boards and two assists in 24 foul-plagued minutes. Price also grabbed six rebounds as part of his career night, including four on the offensive glass, and Nielson just missed a double-double as he finished with 10 points and a career-high nine caroms.
“I was happy with the effort tonight and I thought our team played really hard,” head coach Jon Judkins said. “When (APU) made their (second half) run, I called timeout and I told our guys that they were playing harder, they were more physical and they were hustling more than we were. I told our team to get back to doing the things we did to get the lead, and we did a good job with that.”
DSU hit 45.5 percent (25 of 55) of its shots, including 52.4 percent (11 of 21) in the second half, but was just 4 of 15 (.267) from the perimeter. The Trailblazers (.791) also went to the line a season-high 43 times, converting on a season-best 34 of those attempts, and outrebounded the Cougars 46-42, though APU held a 19-13 edge on the offensive glass.
“Teams go on runs and you have to get the ball inside and you have to get to the foul line. You do that and you can stop runs,” Judkins added. “We did a good job at the foul line tonight, and tonight was a good overall team effort.”
Kutlesic led all scorers with 25 points on 10-of-19 shooting and finished with a game-high 14 rebounds, while Darien McClain poured in 19 points, and Worthy tallied 14 points off the bench. DSU held APU to 34.7 percent shooting (25 of 72), 25.0 percent (10 of 40) from beyond the arc.
Dixie State begins the road portion of its 2017-18 PacWest slate next weekend with a date at preseason conference favorite California Baptist on Saturday, Dec. 16, at 7 p.m. PST in Riverside. Then DSU will head over to Irvine for a league matchup against Concordia-Irvine the following Monday, Dec. 18, at 7:30 p.m. PST.
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.