When Aanen Moody checked in against Dixie State University with five minutes remaining in the second half, the Trailblazers were on a 18-4 run and clinging to a three point lead.
By the time Moody checked out three minutes later, Southern Utah University led by seven points.
The junior guard made three 3-pointers in a row to spark a 12-2 run that swung the game for the Thunderbirds, who went on to win 85-78 in the first Division I matchup between the schools.
Moody had missed two and a half weeks of action due to COVID-19 protocol, but showed no signs of rust in his first game back. Moody shot 5-of-8 3PFG and scored 15 points in just 13 minutes of action.
“I’m a little bit out of shape and out of rhythm, but I knew I had to go in and do my job, and luckily that’s why I did,” Moody told reporters postgame. “Basketball is a game about runs, and we just made the runs when it counted.”
John Knight III led all scorers with 22 points on a near perfect 9-of-10 FG and had five assists, including the pass that found Moody to spark the late run.
Southern Utah dominated the offensive glass, hauling in 18 offensive rebounds and scoring 19 second chance points.
Maizen Fausett opened the scoring for the T-Birds off an offensive rebound, but the T-Birds wouldn’t hold the lead for long. Dixie burst out to a 17-5 run and held a double digit lead with 13 minutes left in the first half.
The Thunderbirds began to find their offensive rhythm as the half wore on, and back to back threes by Moody and Tevian Jones gave SUU a 29-27 lead with six minutes left.
Dixie pushed back with a long shot by Cameron Gooden and a mid-range jumper by Jacob Nicolds and tied things up at 34, one of five times the teams tied during the contest.
SUU closed the half on an 11-2 run sparked by a tough rebound and putback by Ivan Madunic and a transition 3-pointer by Moody. At the break, the T-Birds led 45-36.
“When we got into the locker room Coach Simon said, ‘Expect their best punch coming out of halftime,’’ Knight said. “We knew a run was coming, and that’s a big thing we’ve worked on this year. Nobody gets down on themselves. Everybody uplifts each other and fights for each other.”
It seemed as though SUU might put the game away after Knight dunked and scored a tough and-1 layup on consecutive possessions, but coach Jon Judkins’ squad refused to go away.
The introduction of Isaiah Pope, who played his first game this season Thursday night due to a transfer waiver coming in late, seemed to light a fire under Dixie State. The Blazers faced their largest deficit of the game with 13:49 left in the second when Pope led them on a charge back.
Pope drilled a 3-pointer, found Frank Staine for an and-1 layup, sank two free throws after a hard collision and made a layup to cap a 12-0 run that pushed Dixie State to a three point lead with eight minutes left.
The teams exchanged the lead over the next few minutes and Dixie built their lead back to three before Moody reentered the game. His first shot, a lightning fast catch and shoot after a pass from Harrison Butler, tied the game.
Dason Youngblood made a layup on the next possession to regain the lead for the Trailblazers. A missed 3-pointer by Jones sparked a 4-on-5 fast break for DSU.
Cameron Gooden tried to sneak a pass into Jacob Nicolds inside, but Knight III jumped the passing lane and started running the other way. He threw it ahead to Butler, who was still retreating when Knight III stole the ball. Butler tiptoed around a defender and lept for a dunk attempt, but he was too low and was blocked by the rim.
Butler followed up his miss and found Moody, who was wide open amidst the chaos. Moody splashed the shot, giving the T-Birds a lead they would not surrender for the rest of the game.
Jones assisted Moody’s next 3-pointer and then put the nail in the coffin with a deep bomb of his own after the T-Birds got consecutive defensive stops to lead 77-70 with 2:43 remaining.
The T-Birds played solid defense and made clutch free throws down the stretch. SUU forced four turnovers over the final four minutes and held DSU to just eight points on their final 11 possessions.
“We knew it was going to be a dog fight with Dixie, they’ve got talent and they’re well coached,” Simon said following the contest. “Obviously they’ve had so much success they know what winning is, so their transition to D-I was going to be a successful one, but that was a fun game.”
Jones finished with 17 points on 5-of-19 FG and Ivan Madunic was the final T-Bird to finish in double figures with 10 points and eight rebounds, including five on the offensive glass.
Gooden led the scoring for DSU with 16 points, but the guard finished with four turnovers in the contest. Nicolds added 15 points and Staine scored 13 despite only playing 23 minutes.
Southern Utah moves to 5-1 on the season with the win, and Dixie State falls to 3-1. The Thunderbirds have won five in a row and will have the chance to extend their win streak Friday night against the Bethesda Flames. Tip-off in Cedar City is set for 7 p.m. MT inside the America First Event Center.
Story by: Connor Sanders
Photo courtesy of SUU Athletics Strategic Communication