ST. GEORGE — The Utah Tech Trailblazers went 1-1 in head-to-head battles with the Panthers on Saturday.

Utah Tech’s Jaylen Searles (middle) and Tanner Christensen (left) defend against Florida International’s Arturo Dean, St. George, Utah, Dec. 30, 2023 | Photo by E. George Goold, St. George News

The basketball teams from Utah Tech and Florida International played each other, almost at the same time, on opposite campuses as the Western Athletic Conference faced Conference USA.

In St. George, Utah Tech’s men held onto a lead down the stretch and defeated the visitors from FIU 96-92 in overtime at Burns Arena.

Utah Tech’s Tanner Christensen told St. George News afterwards that the win was especially critical for the team, as it snapped a four-game losing skid.

“Super important,” Christensen said after posting 15 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double in the win. “Some of those games we should of won, and now this gives us a lot of good momentum and a lot of energy as we head into conference.”

Utah Tech head coach Jon Judkins heaved a sigh of relief after his charges improved to 6-7 overall, entering the New Year on a winning note.

“It was big,” Judkins said. “I just thought our energy tonight was so much better. It was so much better. Win or lose, our energy was so much better, and that’s a good team. They’re little, they’re fast and quick. They pressed the whole game.”

The up-and-down ballgame had multiple momentum swings during a hard-fought battle. FIU’s Javaunte Hawkins canned a half-court 3-pointer with .7 seconds remaining to force the extra session tied 83-83.

But the Trailblazers won the OT 13-9 after Christensen made consecutive buckets.

Utah Tech’s Jaylen Searles (left) and Unisa Turay (right) defends against Florida International’s Arturo Dean, St. George, Utah, Dec. 30, 2023 | Photo by E. George Goold, St. George News

“Overtime is a short period, whoever strikes first is generally going to win,” Christensen said. “So I’m glad we could get in there. We were up four or six right there at the beginning, so that was a big push. Glad we could do that.”

Noa Gonsalves had a record shooting day for Utah Tech, finishing 7-of-11 behind the 3-point line to throw in 21 points. His seven treys broke the school mark for made 3’s in a game.

“Our theme was break the press, get layups, dunks or 3’s,” Judkins said. “And that’s what we got. So give them credit.”

Point guard Aric Demings finished with 19 points for the winners. Freshman Angelo Kambala tossed in 11 points for Utah Tech and played over 26 minutes off the bench. Jaylen Searles was the fifth double-digit scoring Trailblazer with his 11 points, including a last-second 3 in regulation that set up Hawkins’ heroics for the Panthers.

Hawkins led all scorers in the game with 27 for the visitors including five 3’s. Arturo Dean threw in 21 in the loss and Mohamed Sanogo totaled 12 for the Panthers.

Utah Tech next heads on the road to resume its WAC schedule. The 2-0 Trailblazers are at Seattle University for a game Thursday, Jan. 4 at 8 p.m. (MT)

“We just got to have everybody ready, that’s what we’re telling them,” Judkins said. “And right now they’re doing that.”

Across the country at Ocean Bank Convocation Center in Miami, Florida, Utah Tech’s women fell to FIU 68-62.

Utah Tech’s Catelyn Deaver shoots against Florida International, Miami, Florida, Dec. 30, 2023 | Photo by Ava Nash, Utah Tech Athletics Media Relations, St. George News

Breaunna Gillen led four Trailblazers in double-digit scoring, posting a line of 14 points, four rebounds, three assists and one steal in the loss.

Gillen recorded her 1,300th-career point on her first basket of the third quarter.

Catelyn Deaver finished with a career-best 13 points on 4-of-8 shooting with a career-high tying three 3-pointers. Deaver also pulled down three boards and blocked two shots.

Maddie Warren tallied 12 points, four rebounds and four assists, and McCord wound up with 11 points in the setback.

The Trailblazers were outrebounded 45-28 by the Panthers. Mya Kone led all scorers with 19 points in FIU’s win.

The Trailblazers (7-6, 1-1 WAC) play five of their next seven games at home, starting with a matchup versus Seattle University Thursday, Jan. 4 in Burns Arena at 7 p.m.

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