DSU beats Concordia in conference opener

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Redemption at the free-throw line enabled the Dixie State University men’s basketball team to win its Pacific West Conference home opener in overtime Saturday against Concordia University Irvine.

After building an 11-point second-half lead, abysmal free throw shooting allowed CUI to creep back into the game. Ironically enough, it was clutch free throw shooting that put the Trailblazers over the top in the extra five minutes 82-76.

“It just came down to us making big free throws at the end,” said sophomore center Austin Montgomery, an integrated studies major from Atlanta. “We need to stop turning the ball over and letting teams back into the game.”

From the opening tip, the Eagles pressured the Trailblazers full court. Despite the pressure, DSU gained and held the lead for much of the first half. Senior forward Josh Fuller’s scoring and rebounding inside combined with strong backcourt play by junior guards Brandon Simister and Trevor Hill helped DSU build an 11-point edge with just over three minutes left.

CUI fought back, but a layup from Simister at the horn gave DSU a 37-26 first-half lead.

The Eagles came out of the gates like race horses in the first five minutes, using defense and fast-break opportunities to claw back into the game. With 13 minutes to go in the game, the lead shrunk to one.

CUI built a four-point lead with under 10 minutes to play, but DSU fired back with an 8-0 run that forced the Eagles to call a timeout.

With under two minutes to play, DSU had the ball and a five-point lead, but thanks to missed free throws by Simister and Hill, a couple of late baskets by CUI, DSU led 67-66 with under 10 seconds to play. Simister stepped to the line and missed the first free throw before calmly connecting on the second. The Eagles then drove down and banked in a layup with 1.5 seconds left. The Trailblazers half court heave came up empty and suddenly the conference opener was headed to overtime.

The Eagles shooting stayed strong through the midway point of the overtime period, helping CUI lead 75-71. Then DSU got redemption at the free-throw line. Junior forward Kyler Nielson went 4-4 and both Hill and Simister found their strokes as well. With time running out, the Eagles kept missing their shots and hopelessly watched as the Trailblazers iced the game at the line.

“We know [CUI] is a good team, so we are happy to come away with a win tonight,” said redshirt sophomore forward Dub Price, a business administration major from Draper. “We made some shots down the stretch, secured some rebounds and got the stops we needed. We have to limit turnovers moving forward and play with confidence.”

 DSU finished 29-44 at the line, which is 65.9 percent. The coaches were pleased with the effort on the floor, but were frustrated with DSU’s performance at the charity stripe. According to several players, free throws will continue to be worked on in practice

“When we get the lead, we have got to make free throws and step on the throat of the other team,” Montgomery said. He joked, “My stomach can’t take these close games anymore. I’m going to get ulcers.”

At 4-3 overall and 1-0 in conference, DSU plays Thursday at California Baptist University.