Wolverines outlast Jaguars in season opener to pick up win

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Senior point guard Holton Hunsaker led Utah Valley with 18 points, and freshman forward Zach Nelson added a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds to push the hosts past IUPUI 74-66 Friday night.

Hunsaker put the Wolverines up 13-12 with two free throws at the 12:19 mark in the first half, and Utah Valley never trailed from that point on.

“It was real competitive game, a real hard fought game,” head coach Dick Hunsaker said. “We were always able to have a slight edge throughout the game.”

However, the victory didn’t come easy for the Wolverines, who committed 25 team fouls and 13 turnovers on the night.

New NCAA rules have forced officials to call hand checks much more frequently than they have in the past, and have also created a new interpretation of the block-charge call, which benefits the offensive player much more than it does the defender.

“We’re all going to live with those fouls,” Hunsaker said. “Across the country this will be the norm, if not a shade below the number of free throws that were called in this game. I don’t quite grasp the direction but that’s what the officials have been instructed, and the new rule guidelines are to call the fouls.”

The teams combined to shoot 55 free throws. UVU only missed three attempts from the stripe (25-of-28) compared to eight (19-of-27) for IUPUI. Both senior Keawe Enos and junior Mitch Bruneel were disqualified in the second half after reaching the five-foul limit, but it was preseason All-WAC First Team performer Ben Aird’s foul trouble that required Nelson to log 31 minutes in his Wolverine debut.

“He’s getting his legs under him,” Hunsaker said of the freshman. “His legs truly were like one of those cartoon characters where they’re all wobbly and they’re about to go down but he grasped, and there are some bright days ahead for Zach.”

Thirteen of Holton Hunsaker’s total came in the second half to secure the win. The UVU floor general went 9-of-10 from the line and finished with four rebounds and four assists.

“No. 22 (Marcellus) Barksdale did a great job defending me,” Holton Hunsaker said. “He’s so long and athletic, he really didn’t give me many chances for open looks. I think most of the points just came from the free throw line and my teammates trusted me to get me the ball. I was open because no one can guard me at the free throw line.”

Aird still managed to reach double figures with 10 points and added eight rebounds, two assists and a block, but UVU needed every one of the 14 points the bench chipped in to come out on top.

“I thought our bench did a nice job,” Coach Hunsaker said. “There wasn’t one guy that came off that bench to say that I was disappointed in his play.”

The Wolverines follow up the win with three straight games against participants of the 2013 NCAA tournament, starting with a home contest Nov. 11 at 7:05 p.m. against North Carolina A&T.

“It was important for us to win a close game I think,” Holton Hunsaker said. “Obviously these next three teams are very good teams. North Carolina A&T is not going to forget us and want revenge on us for last year. It was important just to gain confidence in what we’re doing – the scheme and system of it all – and hopefully trust it these next three games.”

Enos, a senior from Mesa, Ariz. tallied 14 points in the win on an efficient 4-of-6 shooting, while Bruneel scored five points and had six rebounds. Sophomore Hayes Garrity and junior Brenden Evans each had six points apiece off the bench, and junior Chad Ross, who Coach Hunsaker praised for his defense, contributed two points to round out the UVU scoring.