It took a bit longer than they wanted, but the Dixie State Trailblazers still got their first win as a Division I program as quickly as they could have reasonably hoped.
Dixie State, in its first season in D-I and playing in the WAC, had to wait an extra five days after its original opener against in-state foe Weber State was canceled due to, you guessed it, COVID-19 concerns.
The hosting Trailblazers, who competed at the JuCo level just 13 years ago, followed a strong 2019-20 season in D-II with a nail-biting win over Summit League squad North Dakota in St. George, Utah, Wednesday night.
I can’t think of a much better way to make a D-I debut.
The Trailblazers beat the Fighting Hawks 74-73 and now, officially, can say they have arrived.
“We’ve been waiting a long time to play,” Trailblazers head coach Jon Judkins said to The Spectrum’s Chris Kwiecinski. “I love how competitive we were, and how hard we played.”
Frank Staine and Jacob Nicolds led the scoring charge with 19 and 17 points respectively, going a combined 13-of-18 from the line. As a team, Dixie State shot 19-of-27 from the foul line — not great, but the makes came when needed.
Staine and Nicolds started their careers as Division II athletes. Now, there has got to be some fun in proving that they can make noise at a higher level.
“A lot of people, since we’ve made that jump from Division II to Division I, they’ve been counting us out,” Nicolds, who scored the first D-I bucket for Dixie State, said to The Spectrum. “To come out, compete and actually show we belong in Division I, it was a great feeling.
The Trailblazers led by as many as 12 in the second half following a 29-24 deficit in the first. Eventually, however, North Dakota was able to chip and chip and chip away to make it a four-point game with about 50 seconds left on the clock.
It could be safe to assume a newbie team would go belly up and struggle to put away a visiting school ... that didn’t exactly happen.
While the free-throw line wasn’t kind all game, Cameron Gooden drained a pair and iced the game after North Dakota’s Sims Seybian was called for a charge.
Unlike many colleges across the United States, Dixie State actually had some fans in attendance to witness the night of firsts. No matter how you feel about fans in attendance at sporting events right now, this still has to feel at least a little good to see.
Grateful for the opportunity to have fans tonight. pic.twitter.com/ErjILF7ljK— Dixie State Basketball (@DIXIESTATEBBALL) December 3, 2020
The Trailblazers were able to hound the Fighting Hawks in the second half, getting 12 points off eight turnovers following just five off 10 in the first half.
Also, the Fighting Hawks didn’t have much of an answer for the inside game of the Trailblazers, who scored 38 points in the paint while holding North Dakota to 30. Dixie State needed that production inside because the outside wasn’t working — going just 1 of 10 from distance.
Assuming the schedule holds, Dixie State has some tough sledding ahead.
First comes Utah State, then Southern Utah and finally Gonzaga — AKA the best team in the NCAA by a lot of people’s metrics and opinions.