Behind a career-high 28 points from the tournament's Most Outstanding Player Brandon Simister, No. 18 Dixie State erased a 17-point first-half deficit to rally for a 66-64 victory over No. 18/19 California Baptist in the championship game of the 2018 Pacific West Conference Tournament on Saturday in the CBU Events Center.
With the victory, Dixie State earned the conference’s automatic bid to the 2018 NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball Tournament, the program’s eighth trip to the “Big Dance” overall. In addition, the Trailblazers pushed their NCAA era record winning streak to 17-straight games and broke the program’s four-year single-season wins record as DSU improved to 23-6 overall.
A possible Trailblazer PacWest tournament title looked bleak in the early going as CBU (25-5) shot lights out from the perimeter, thanks to the hot hand of guard Matt Hubbard who nailed five of his first six 3-point attempts, which helped the Lancers turn an 11-10 lead into a 34-17 advantage with 4:06 to play in the opening half. Hubbard hit four of those treys as part of a 20-4 run that helped give his side the early double-digit advantage.
Dixie State managed to stay within striking distance in large part due to Simister, who poured in 14 first-half points to keep the Trailblazers in the game. Simister, who was plagued by foul trouble in DSU’s semifinal win over Concordia-Irvine on Friday, connected on 4-of-4 from the floor with two 3-pointers in the frame and helped spur an 11-2 DSU rally with five points as Dixie State pulled to within 36-28 at the intermission.
DSU carried that momentum back out of the locker room as Zac Hunter scored in the paint on the Trailblazers’ opening possession of the second half to cut the deficit to 36-30. However, CBU quickly snatched the momentum right back with back-to-back buckets from Gabe Taylor and Cory Lange, while Jason Todd nailed a 3-pointer as part of a 9-4 spurt to push the Lancer lead back to double digits at 45-34 with 15:59 remaining.
Dixie State then turned up the defensive intensity, which in turn ignited the offense, as the Trailblazers rattled off a 20-6 run in an eight-plus minute span to take its second lead of the night at 54-51 with 8:06 to play. Simister hit a trey and was fouled on another 3-point attempt as he accounted for 10 of DSU’s 20 points in the run. Trevor Hill also got into the act as he added five more, including a big three-point play conversion, and Clark capped the rally with his lone bucket of the night that spotted DSU the three-point edge.
Meanwhile, the Trailblazer defense limited CBU to just 3-of-10 from the floor and forced three Lancer miscues during that stretch as Dixie State led for the first time since 4-2 early in the first half.
Jordan Heading finally stopped the DSU run with a 3-pointer to draw the Lancers even, then Dejon Davis hit a pair of free throws to put CBU back on top at 56-54 with 6:41 left. That lead didn't last long as Kyler Nielson tied the game on a tip-in on DSU’s next possession.
From there, the game belonged to Hill as the newly-crowned PacWest Player of the Year scored the next eight DSU points on four driving lay-ins, the last of which gave Dixie State its largest lead of the game at 64-59 with 1:53 remaining.
Heading drew CBU to within 64-61 with a pair of free throws, and then after both teams swapped empty possessions, Heading went back to the line with a chance to pull the Lancers closer with 11 seconds left.
However, Heading missed both charity tosses, and Simister secured the long rebound and streaked down the court before being fouled with six seconds to play. Simister hit both free throws to give DSU a two-possession lead, and though Todd hit CBU’s final trey of the night, it came at the final horn as the Trailblazers stormed the court in celebration.
Simister led all scorers with his 28 points, which came on 8-of-12 shooting (3-of-5 3FG) and a perfect 9-of-9 at the line. Meanwhile, Hill scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half and pulled down a game-high seven rebounds on his way to all-tournament honors. Clark also collected all-tournament recognition as he tied Hill with seven boards to go with two points, two assists and two blocks. Clark, along with Austin Montgomery, combined to hold CBU’s leading scorer Kalidou Diouf to just nine points on 3-of-9 shooting.
Dixie State shot an even 40.0 percent (24-of-60) from the floor, but it did hit 15-of-18 from the foul line (.833), including 11-of-13 in the second half. DSU also outrebounded CBU by a 39-33 count, 13-8 on the offensive glass, and turned the ball over just six times, with only one of those miscues coming after halftime.
Hubbard led CBU with 15 points, though they all came in the first half as the Trailblazer defense held him to only one shot attempt in the second half. CBU hit 43.1 percent (22-of-51) from the floor, which included a 40.7 percent (11-of-27) (.407) clip from the perimeter, while the top free-throw shooting team in the PacWest hit just 9-of-17 (.529) from the foul line.
Dixie State, which was ranked No. 4 in the NCAA West Region going into this weekend’s PacWest Tournament, will learn its seeding this Sunday as the 2018 NCAA Tournament Selection Show will be broadcast live via the NCAA website at 8:30 p.m. MT.
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.dixiestateathletics.com and follow Dixie State on Twitter at @DixieAthletics.