On a night where senior guard Brandon Simister became Dixie State’s career 3-point leader, Dixie State rode a dominant second-half performance en route to its 11th straight win, an 89-55 rout of Hawai’i Hilo on Saturday night inside the Burns Arena. With the victory, the Pacific West Conference-leading Trailblazers (17-6, 14-2 PacWest) became the first team to clinch a berth into next month’s conference tournament.
The winning streak looked to be in jeopardy in the early going as the Vulcans (6-15, 5-9 PacWest) raced out to a 22-11 lead midway through the first half thanks to some hot shooting. UHH opened the game 4-of-6 from the perimeter and hit nine of its first 15 shots overall.
Dixie State then tightened things up defensively in the next 10 minutes of the stanza, forcing four turnovers and limiting the Vulcans to just 4-of-15 from the floor. Meanwhile, the Trailblazer offense got rolling, outscoring the UHH, 21-10, during the next six minutes to draw even at 32-32 after a Kyler Nielson lay-in. Nielson accounted for seven of DSU’s points in the run, while Quincy Mathews and Wade Miller chipped in four points apiece off the bench.
However, DSU only scored two more points in the final four-plus minutes of the half, though the Vulcans did not fare as well either. But UHH did take a 36-34 lead into the halftime break.
The second half was all Trailblazers as DSU opened the frame with a decisive 25-6 run en route to a 59-42 lead with 12:09 to go. Then, with Dixie State up 63-47 with less than eight minutes to play, the Trailblazers put the game on ice with a 14-3 spurt to extend to a 77-50 advantage with 4:50 remaining.
Simister scored eight points in that rally, which started with a deep 3-pointer from the right wing off a Trevor Hill feed. That trey vaulted Simister (147 3FGM) into first place on DSU’s career 3-pointers made list, passing former DSU sharpshooter Tom Whitehead (145, 2008-11) for the top spot.
Hill then got into the act with a steal and thunderous dunk, which was followed by a Nielson bucket and Julien Ducree throw down. Simister capped the rally with another 3-pointer for good measure and a pair of free throws. DSU pushed the lead to as many as 37 points before settling for its largest margin of victory on the season at 34 points.
“It was a tale of two halves. The first half we gave [UHH] some confidence, but in the second half we came out and played our way,” head coach Jon Judkins said. “Our defense leads to good offense, and our bench outscored their bench (39-12) and that was big tonight.
“What a big night for Brandon. He’s had a great four years with us and I’m happy for him.”
Simister scored 13 of his game-high 20 points in the second half as the senior hit 6-of-10 from the floor, including 4-of-6 from downtown, to go with six assists and two rebounds. Simister’s six assists also moved him into third place on DSU’s career assists list (279).
“It’s pretty overwhelming to think about [the 3-point record]. I did not even know I was that close when I came into this game, but Trevor [Hill] leaned over to me about two minutes before I hit that [record-breaking] shot and said ‘Hey spot up, you’re close to the record,’” Simister said. “There’s a lot of emotions that come to you when something like that happens. I thought about all the time I’ve spent with my teammates and all the shots I’ve taken, and the great experiences I’ve had being a Trailblazer.”
Nielson added 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting with three boards and three assists, and Austin Montgomery poured in 10 points off the bench. DSU shot 48.5 percent (33-of-68) from the floor, including a 56.8 percent clip (21-of-37) in the second half. The Trailblazers were also 5-of-16 (.313) from the perimeter, though DSU did outscore the Vulcans by a 44-16 margin in the paint.
After being outrebounded in the first half by six (22-16), Dixie State outrebounded UHH by 12 caroms in the second to win the rebounding battle, 42-36. DSU’s defense also forced 12 of the Vulcans 17 turnovers after halftime and held the Vulcans to just 6-of-24 (.250) in the second half (35.2 percent overall, 19-of-54).
Devin Johnson led UHH with 19 points and nine rebounds.
Dixie State wraps up its 2017-18 home slate with its final two PacWest games inside the Burns Arena. DSU will take Hawai'i Pacific on Saturday, Feb. 17, and host Holy Names on Senior Night on Monday, Feb. 19. Both games tip at 7:30 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.