Dancell Leter and Dixie State host Tarleton in the WAC opener for both teams on Thursday. Courtesy Breanne Biorato/VisuallyBreanna.

Highs and Lows of Dixie State’s Non-Conference Slate

The Dixie State men’s basketball team finds themselves with a 7-6 record heading into WAC play this week. The Trailblazers had a strong non-conference schedule. Opponents that had an average KenPom ranking of 173. And two opponents are currently in the top-10. Head Coach Jon Judkins’ team will use their highs and lows of the early season to propel themselves into conference play on November 30.

High Points of the Non-Conference Schedule

Competitive Showings Against the Big Guys

From the outside, a 34-point loss to Gonzaga and a 27-point loss to USC don’t look like high points. But, avid college basketball and especially WAC followers know there is always more to an outcome than what the score says. This is especially true when you’re playing two top-10 opponents. Both games on the road had different stories to tell about the Trailblazers. At Gonzaga, the true highlight was the defense. Dixie State forced 15 turnovers and held the Bulldogs to only 28% from distance.

At the Galen Center in LA, the Trailblazers set their season low in turnovers with just 7 against the Trojans. Dixie State’s perimeter defense was solid again holding the Trojans to 37% from distance. Although they were blowout losses, Dixie State was within 11 points in the second half of both games.

Protecting the House

Coming out of non-conference play, the Trailblazers have a 2-1 home record against Division I opponents. The overall home record is 6-1. The Burns Arena in St George has never been easy on road teams and 2021-22 has been no different.

A marquis, 8-point win over Southern Utah in front of a near sellout crowd in November kicked off the winning ways. Two blowout victories against Bethesda University and one against St. Katherine University sent the Trailblazers on a 6-game winning streak. It also started an active 5-game home winning streak. The most recent of those home wins was a 20-point victory over Denver.

Scoring All Over the Floor

There is rarely a time that you will see Cameron Gooden rushed or flustered by a defense. Gooden leads the Dixie State attack with 14.5 points per game and 40% shooting. Big performances against Gonzaga, USC, CSUN and Denver have solidified Gooden as the go-to scoring option for Dixie State. Look for his name to be mentioned when conference player of the year discussions take place.

Hunter Schofield has been a dominant player at every rank of college basketball. At the JUCO and Division II ranks, Schofield was dominant. Averaging 12.5 at Salt Lake Community College and 16.4 in his single season with Dixie State at the DII level, his production has seemingly been unfazed by the move to the DI level. Currently, Schofield is averaging 13.6 points, with a season high 29-point performance in the home matchup against Southern Utah.

While Gooden and Schofield lead the Trailblazers on the floor, there is no doubt the emotional leader is Frank Staine. A 3-year starter at Dixie State, Staine has found his role and thrives in it. You won’t see the stats jump off of the stat sheet. But he plays tough, physical defense and has a knack for hitting clutch shots. A 17-point performance in front of hometown fans at USC ignited his season and he hasn’t looked back. Sitting at 8th all-time in 3-pointers made at Dixie State, Staine provides a complimentary deep threat behind Gooden and Schofield.

The last big piece to the Dixie State starting five is junior transfer Dancell Leter. You will rarely see a bad shot come from the hands of Leter. Trailblazer fans haven’t seen a player with his combination of athleticism and shooting ability in quite some time. Like Staine, he provides a solid scoring option outside of the two top scorers.

Impactful Bench Play

You won’t see Judkins’ team miss a beat when Schofield and Gooden leave the floor. It’s something the 17-year head coach has pride in. His rotations are set and his guys know when they’re going in and when they need to be ready to go. Typically coming off the bench around the same time, Noa Gonsalves, Trevon Alfrey and Andre Mulibea keep the machine running with high-energy defense and efficient shooting.

This Week

Thursday’s matchup with Tarleton in the Burns Arena will be a great pace setter for the Trailblazers as they head into their WAC schedule. The Texans, who made their move to Division I with Dixie State last year, have had a similar start to their season. With a 5-8 record, they have matched up with three national top-20 teams and even gave Gonzaga a scare in Spokane. The WAC opener will be no cake walk for the Trailblazers in St George.

The WAC schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Trailblazers on Saturday when they host Abilene Christian. Winners of nine straight games, the Wildcats are rolling. Although, their non-conference schedule wasn’t extremely impressive and they will be coming off a tough Thursday matchup with UVU. Being the second game of the week will be an advantage for Dixie State on New Year’s Day.

About the author

Dallas Clifford

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