On Wednesday night, the Dixie State Trailblazers travel to Cedar City to take on in-state and soon-to-be WAC rival Southern Utah. The game is the second of a home-and-home series this season. Both teams come into the contest with seven wins. In the first meeting this season, Dixie State defended their home court with an 83-76 victory.
Game 1 Recap
If it wasn’t mid-November, you might have thought that Dixie State and Southern Utah were playing for a conference championship in their first matchup this year. Inside a nearly full Burns Arena, the atmosphere was electric. On the north end of the gym, stood a rowdy student section ready to cause havoc for the visiting Thunderbirds. Little did the students know that their team was about to pull off a massive early-season upset.
Coming into the matchup, the visiting Thunderbirds held a KenPom ranking of 117, almost 200 spots ahead of Dixie’s 311. Even Vegas had SUU as a virtual lock. Sportsbooks had SUU as a 10.5-point favorite heading into the contest. Needless to say, the numbers and odds were against the Trailblazers.
It looked like the oddsmakers were right when Southern Utah’s John Knight III put down a two-handed, blow by dunk in the second possession of the game. From that point on though, the Trailblazers were in control. With 29 points in 27 minutes on 12-19 shooting, Hunter Schofield seemed unstoppable.
Cam Gooden came close to a double-double with 10 points and a career-high 9 assists. Frank Staine scored 7 of his 11 points in the second half, highlighted by a euro-step fast-break layup and a huge corner three that seemingly closed out the game. Dixie also had solid inside play from Trevon Allfrey who had 10 points on 3-4 shooting.
Southern Utah shot only 37% from the floor in the contest. Ask any of the 1400 students in the student section. They will take complete credit for the poor shooting performance. The only real bright spot on the offensive side of the ball for the Thunderbirds was their guard play. John Knight III and Dre Marin combined for 39 points on 13-25 shooting. Southern Utah did take care of the ball quite nicely, only turning the ball over an incredible four times.
What to Watch For: Dixie State
We know Dixie State is on a hot streak right now. Winning all six of their previous games, two of those being strong wins against Division 1 opponents. The depth of the Trailblazers has been the key to recent success and will be vital in Wednesday’s rivalry matchup. Expect Cam Gooden and Hunter Schofield to have big nights, again. Both have incredible ability to finish around the rim and to step back behind the arc and keep their defenders honest. Behind his two stars, Coach Jon Judkins has put together a solid supporting cast.
Its no doubt that Sophomore forward Frank Staine is the emotional leader of this team. Staine is currently averaging 9.7 points per game on 50% from the floor and 46% from deep. He seems to always be in the right place at the right time in big moments, whether that’s knocking down a clutch corner three or grabbing a tough, defensive rebound.
Dancell Leter and Noa Gonsalves have provided great minutes for Dixie State during the win streak. This trip to Cedar City should be no different. In their last meeting, both players were only in their second game as Trailblazers. While both offered productive minutes, they were still feeling out their roles.
Season assist leader Brock Gilbert provides a steady, pass-first hand at the point guard position. With recent success behind the arc and a knack for coming away with a steal or two, he should cause problems for the Thunderbirds. Andre Mulibea and Trevon Allfrey have flown under the radar this season but have been consistently good for Dixie State. Allfrey’s minutes typically come when Schofield is off the floor. The offense rarely skips a beat when he is on the floor. The same goes for Mulibea. A reliable 3-point shooter and physical defender, Judkins can rely on him to produce in limited minutes.
What to Watch For: Southern Utah
After the loss in St. George things were not looking great for the Thunderbirds. A 19-point loss to St Mary’s and a blunder by the official scoring crew against Cal left Southern Utah with a 1-3 record and 0-3 against Division I opponents. (2-2 and 1-2 if the officials would have verified the Cal score.) From there they have been good. Some might say even great. Winning six of their last seven, one of those wins being a 60-56 home victory over in-state rival Utah Valley. The same Utah Valley team that knocked off top-25 BYU just a week before. A loss to Michigan in Ann Arbor on Saturday was the only loss for the T-birds in almost a month.
Southern Utah has four players averaging double-digits. The Thunderbirds’ play is dictated by their guards. Dre Marin (12.1 ppg), who is in the SUU record books for scoring, and John Knight III (17 ppg) are a ferocious backcourt duo. With shooters on the wings in Tevian Jones and Maizen Faussett, they are tough to defend.
The atmosphere is going to be incredibly different than the November matchup in St George. Both student bodies have gone home for the holidays and Christmas is only be two days away. Neither team will be able to rely on their respective student sections to give them a boost late in the game. This plays to Dixie State’s advantage. With the hostile environment not being so hostile the Trailblazers can play their game. Confident shooting, high-energy defense, and solid role play will be key in Dixie coming away with a victory to close out non-conference play.