Three Trailblazers scored in double figures as No. 24 Dixie State pushed its season-long win streak to 12 games with a hard-fought 69-58 victory over Hawai’i Pacific on Saturday night in the Burns Arena. The win preserved DSU’s slim lead in Pacific West Conference standings as the Trailblazers improved to 18-6, 15-2 in conference play.
Dixie State looked well on its way to another lopsided win, using a 26-5 first-half run, including 16-straight points, to race out to a commanding 35-13 lead with three minutes to play until the intermission. DSU’s defense locked down the Sharks in the early going as HPU missed 20 of its first 24 shots, while the Trailblazer offense shined as the unit combined to hit eight of its 16 attempts during the run.
The Sharks would not go away quietly, outscoring DSU, 13-2, to make it a 37-26 game with 26 seconds to play, but Brandon Simister stopped the run with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give DSU a 40-26 lead at the half.
Dixie State opened the scoring in the second half with a Kyler Nielson lay-in to extend to a 42-26 advantage. However, that lead slowly began to evaporate as the Sharks methodically chipped away at the deficit as HPU held the Trailblazers to just 10 points in the first 12-plus minutes of the stanza to battle all the way to make it a two-point game at 50-48 with 7:50 remaining. The PacWest’s leading scorer Niksha Federico led the Shark comeback as he scored 13 of HPU’s 22 points in that stretch to pull his team back into the game.
Despite losing the momentum, Dixie State would not surrender the lead as Nielson stopped the bleeding with five-straight points, including a big 3-pointer from the right wing, to give DSU a three-possession lead at 57-50 with six minutes to go.
HPU made more push to get to within three at 57-54, but the Trailblazers went on to outscore the Sharks, 12-4, in the final five minutes to put the game away. Zac Hunter accounted for six of those points, while DSU hit on 8-of-8 at the foul line to clinch the win.
“We figured out a way to win. That’s what I’m most happy about,” Dixie State head coach Jon Judkins said. “That last four minutes of the first half hurt us, and it gave [HPU] some hope and they came out and played a lot harder [in the second half]. We had a lot of guys step up for us tonight. It was not our best [night], but we figured out a way and we got the win and that’s what good teams do.”
Nielson co-led the Trailblazers with 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting with six rebounds, while Isaiah Clark tied a career high with 14 points on 4-of-4 from the floor and 6-of-7 at the line to go with a team-high eight boards. Meanwhile, Hunter scored eight of his 11 points in the second half, and Simister and Dub Price finished with eight points apiece.
After shooting better than 50 percent in the opening half, DSU was just 7-of-20 (.350) in the second frame to finish the night at 44.7 percent (21-of-47) for the game. DSU offset its cold second half by going 14-of-17 (.824) at the line on its way to a 23-of-28 (.824) effort overall. DSU also outrebounded the Sharks by a 41-33 margin.
Federico led all scorers with 20 points before fouling out with 3:44 to play. HPU shot 28.3 percent (17-of-60) from the floor, including a paltry 4-of-29 (.138) from the perimeter.
Dixie State wraps up its 2017-18 home slate this Monday, Feb. 19, with a PacWest showdown vs. Holy Names on Senior Night beginning 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.