Dixie State saw a nine-point lead evaporate in the final two minutes of regulation as the Trailblazers dropped a 104-103 overtime thriller at Azusa Pacific on Saturday afternoon in the Felix Events Center.
It was a game of runs in the opening 20 minutes of play as the Trailblazers (5-4, 2-1 PacWest) scored eight of the first 11 points en route to an early 17-10 lead through the game’s first five-plus minutes of action. The Cougars (5-8, 1-2 PacWest) clawed back with a 9-2 spurt to pull even at 19-19, but DSU countered with an 8-1 run, including a Brandon Simister 3-pointer and a Trevor Hill conventional three-point play, to take a 27-19 with 9:15 to play until intermission.
APU slowly chipped away at the deficit and pulled to within a bucket at 33-31 after a Petar Kutlesic lay-in, but again DSU answered with an 8-3 spurt thanks to a pair of Kyler Nielson baskets to extend the Trailblazer lead to 41-34. However, APU rallied with a 10-2 run to close the frame and took a 44-43 advantage into the locker room.
Kutlesic kept the Cougar momentum going coming out of the halftime break as he scored seven of his team’s first 11 points to guide APU to its biggest lead of the game at 55-50 with 16:20 to play. Dixie State answered with nine-straight points, spurred on by consecutive buckets from Nielson, followed by a Simister trey and a Hill bucket, to reclaim the lead at 59-55 with just less than 14 minutes remaining.
Trailing 70-69, DSU used a quick 9-2 run, including back-to-back hoops from Zac Hunter, to bolt to a 78-72 advantage. The Trailblazers kept the rally going, outscoring the Cougars, 18-8, in seven minutes to extend to their biggest lead of the game at 87-78 with 1:51 to play.
Azusa Pacific then went off from the perimeter as the Cougars hit five 3-pointers in a span of 1:40 to ultimately pull even at 93-93 with 11 seconds left. Joey Schreiber and Justin Byrd each nailed treys that book-ended two missed DSU free throws, and then after Josh Fuller and Simister each connected on a pair of charity tosses, Schreiber drilled another 3-pointer to pull APU to within four at 91-87.
Nielson followed with two free throws to push the DSU lead to 93-87 with 38.3 seconds left, but Connor Peterson cut the lead in half with a trey to make it a 93-90 game. APU’s defense then came up with a steal in the back court, and Schreiber tied the game with a corner 3-pointer with 11 seconds left.
Dixie State had a chance to win it in regulation, but the Trailblazers could not get a shot off before the horn, advancing DSU to its fourth overtime game of the year.
Azusa Pacific scored the first four points of the extra frame, but Hill hit two free throws and Nielson nailed a leaner in the lane to pull DSU even at 97-97. After the Cougars split two free throws, the Trailblazers took a 99-98 lead on a Nielson jumper with 2:16 to play.
APU wrestled the lead back thanks to two Corey Langerveld free throws, but Fuller countered with a lay-in to put DSU back on top at 101-100 with 1:21 to go. Kutlesic gave the Cougars the lead again on APU’s next trip down the court, while Hill drew a foul on DSU’s ensuing possession and had two free throws with 31 seconds on the clock. However, the junior split the pair, which tied the game 102-102.
Azusa Pacific held the ball for one final shot, but the Cougars managed to get two shots off as Peterson drove the baseline and missed a lay-in attempt. But Justin Byrd was there for the offensive rebound and put back to stake APU to a 104-102 lead with 1.1 seconds to play.
APU was called for a technical foul after players left the bench area after the made basket, and Simister hit the technical free throw to make the score 104-103. Hill’s ensuing inbounds pass sailed the length of the court but was deflected, and the Cougars escaped with the comeback win.
“We let one get away today. We just didn’t do the things tonight that we did on Thursday [road win at No. 3 California Baptist] to help us win,” DSU head coach Jon Judkins said. “I really liked how tough we played though and sometimes you have to go through tough moments like this. This team is tough and we’ll bounce back.”
Hill scored 17 of his season-high 25 points after halftime, while he just missed a triple-double by three assists as he finished with team highs of 12 rebounds and seven assists. Simister hit 7-of-10 from the floor with a career-high-tying five 3-pointers en route to a season-high 23 points, while Nielson tallied a career-best 20 points on 7-of-10 from the field and 6-of-7 from the line and Fuller finished with 17 points and seven boards.
Dixie State shot 54.5 percent from the floor (36-of-66) and went 6-of-15 (.400) from the perimeter, but the Trailblazers were doomed by 12 missed free throws, including eight combined missed foul shots in the second half and overtime periods, as DSU shot 67.6 percent (25-of-37) from the line.
Kutlesic led five Cougars in double figures with a game-high 31 points and finished with 18 rebounds, while Schreiber added 25 points, 18 of which came from beyond the arc as he finished with six 3-pointers. APU shot 42.7 percent (35-of-82) from the floor and 41.9 percent (13-of-31) from the perimeter, while the Cougars outrebounded DSU by a slim 45-44 margin.
Dixie State closes the 2016 portion of the regular season next week with a pair of PacWest games in the Burns Arena. DSU will host Notre Dame de Namur next Saturday, Dec. 17, followed by a showdown with Point Loma on Monday, Dec. 19. Both games tip at 7:30 p.m.
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.dixieathletics.com and follow Dixie State on Twitter at @DixieAthletics.