Judkins earns 500th career victory

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The Dixie State University men’s basketball team nearly blew a large first-half lead but grinded its way to its 11th straight home victory and the 500th career victory for head coach Jon Judkins.

DSU played University of Hawaii at Hilo Saturday, winning 81-72. The win not only kept DSU’s home record perfect this season, it became a monumental moment for Judkins, who won his 216th game at DSU in just over 10 seasons.

“[500 wins] is neat, but I could not do this without my players,” Judkins said. “I’ve lucked out having great players and great coaches. When I am retired, I’ll tell my kids and grandkids, ‘This is what I did,’ but right now, I’m just worried about winning games.”

DSU jumped on UHH early as they hit shots from the outside and got stops on the other end.

“Defensively, we did a lot of good things,” said junior forward Kyler Nielson, a criminal justice major from Cedar City. “We rebounded really well and stayed with their shooters. We wanted this one for [Judkins] and stick to our goal of remaining undefeated at home.”

In a game where DSU never trailed, the Trailblazers traded baskets early with the Vulcans. DSU went on an 18-5 run midway through the first half, building a 29-14 lead.

Despite the deficit, the Vulcans would not go away, regaining the momentum with a late first half run to cut the lead to single digits.    

UHH came out of the locker with the same fervor that kept it in the game, outscoring DSU 14-9 through the first six minutes of the second half to make it a 48-44 game.

Part of the struggle for the Trailblazers was a result of poor free throw shooting. DSU missed 18 at the line, ending the night with a dismal 58 percent team effort at the free-throw line.

The Trailblazers countered the Vulcans charge with one of their own. Within a few minutes, the lead was back to double-digits. Play continued to go back-and-forth for the remainder of the game.

DSU put out the flame of UHH’s final fleeting attempts at a comeback thanks to clutch free throws by junior guard Brandon Simister and a career-high 18 points from junior forward Zac Hunter.

“We played great defense,” assistant coach Kasey Winters said. “We rebounded well, and [UHH] only shot 35 percent. It was careless turnovers that kept them in the game.”

DSU shot over 56 percent from the field, but the 17 turnovers continued to keep the door open for UHH.

DSU outrebounded UHH 46-33 and had six blocks, three of which came from senior forward Marcus Bradley.  

As the final buzzer sounded, players and family gathered around Judkins to celebrate his 500th career victory. 

“It is bigger than basketball for [Judkins],” Nielson said. “He demands a lot from his players, but sets him apart is that he truly cares for his players individually. Because he cares, his players play hard for him; that is why he has been so successful.”

Winters said [Judkins] does a great job of relating to the players and his ability to get them to play their absolute hardest has been instrumental in the NCAA division II success DSU has had.

At 11-2 in PacWest play, DSU takes on Brigham Young University-Hawaii Thursday at 7:30 p.m inside Burns Arena.