OTTAWA – Last year, Dixon came out of the break following a winless trip to the Plano Christmas Classic, and nearly stunned the tournament's champion, Ottawa, on the road.
This year, the Dukes once again had the Plano champion Pirates right after the break. But this time, the Dukes came in loaded with optimism following a terrific start to the season.
Unfortunately, Ottawa knew that, too, and it came out ready to play this time.
The result was a disappointing 56-37 loss to Ottawa at Kingman Gym on Friday night.
In what was supposed to be a big early-season Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference West Division matchup between two teams already with double-digit wins, Ottawa (12-1, 3-0) took a double-digit lead midway through the second quarter and wasn't really challenged the rest of the way.
"Dixon has had a tremendous year ... and if they didn't have our full attention tonight, they very easily could've come in here and beaten us," Ottawa coach Mark Cooper said. "Our kids had good enough focus tonight."
The Dukes (12-3, 2-1) had things close early, tying the game at 8-8 on a Cal Jarrett basket with 3 minutes, 6 seconds left in the first quarter. However, from that point on, Ottawa's defense, rebounding, and unselfishness on offense were too much for Dixon.
Led by a few great feeds from Cody Stokes and Chase Hill, Ottawa outscored the Dukes 18-5 over a 7-minute, 53-second span to seize a 26-13 advantage following a 3-pointer from Keating Rombach with 3:13 left in the first half.
"They're very good, and their size bothered us a lot," Dixon coach Jason Mead said. "Just the fact that they roll out a 6-foot-3 two-guard, we don't see that very often.
"And on the defensive end, we just gave up too many layups."
Dixon struggled from the field and on the glass all night long, making that double-digit lead tough to come back from. The Dukes were just 12-of-41 from the field (29.3 percent), including seven shots blocked on the inside. They also were outrebounded 30-19, this while Ottawa shot 22-of-44 from the field.
"Rebounding was a big key for us tonight, because you worry coming off of [a break]," Cooper said. "We only practiced 2 days this week, on Wednesday and Thursday, and Thursday wasn't very good.
"We were worried how we would shoot the ball, so a big emphasis for this game was offensive boards and defensive boards. It was in case we had a game where we didn't shoot the ball well. We shot the ball OK tonight, but the rebounding was a big factor for us."
Dixon did find a few baskets inside through dribble-penetration early in the third quarter, and it pulled within 35-27 on a Laron Carr 3-pointer with 5:26 left in the period. However, the Pirates' defense, and Isaac Gassman's ability to get to the free-throw line, quickly ended any threat of a Dukes comeback.
Led by eight of Gassman's game-high 17 points, the Pirates scored 17 of the next 18 points, pushing the lead out to an unsurmountable 52-28.
Following Carr's 3-pointer to cut the lead to eight points, the Dukes didn't connect on another field goal until a Riley Mehrens jumper with 1:47 left to play in the game.
Ottawa held Dixon leading scorer Jarrett to nine points, one behind Carr's team-best 10 points. Six-foot, 7-inch sophomore Isaiah Roby wasn't a factor at all in the game offensively, being held scoreless.
Stokes and Hill spearheaded an unselfish and balanced offensive approach that produced 14 assists for Ottawa. Stokes came up with six assists to go along with four points, while Hill had a great all-around effort with 11 points, nine rebounds and three assists. John Carroll added 12 points.
Ottawa 56, Dixon 37
Star of the game: Chase Hill, Ottawa, 11 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists
Key performers: Isaac Gassman, Ottawa, 17 points, 6-for-6 FTs; Cody Stokes, Ottawa, 4 points, 6 assists; Laron Carr, Dixon, 10 points
Up next: Dixon at Hall, 7:30 p.m. Saturday