DIXON – Expecting to win is something Dixon boys basketball coach Jason Mead wants to see out of his team. Judging by the businesslike performance as the Dukes dispatched the Rock Falls Rockets on Tuesday night, that message has sunk in.
The Dukes built a double-digit lead 4 minutes into the game and never looked back in a 70-48 victory over the Rockets, in what will be a conference matchup starting next season.
"We really wanted to win this game, because we owed them from the last couple of years," Dixon junior guard Laron Carr said. "We came in ready to attack, be more aggressive, find open shooters. When we did that, the shots were falling for us."
That was the biggest difference in the game: Dixon (14-3) was knocking shots down, while Rock Falls (5-11) couldn't buy a basket. The Dukes shot 59.5 percent from the floor (25-for-42), while the Rockets managed to hit just 32.3 percent of their attempts (20-for-62) – including a paltry 14.8 percent from 3-point range (4-for-27).
"We got open shots, they just wouldn't go down for us," Rock Falls junior Jacob Mammosser said. "We did a good job going to the basket and trying to get higher-percentage looks, but we were too sluggish at the start. Our offense was off tonight, we fouled a lot, and that's the death of you against a good team."
When the Dukes weren't working the ball around and finding an open shot, they were turning the ball over; Dixon had 14 turnovers, two higher than the goal Mead set for his team before the game.
But the transition defense was more than up to the challenge, as the Rockets scored four points off those 14 miscues.
"We didn't turn their turnovers into points, and that's critical against a well-balanced team like Dixon," Rock Falls coach Brad Bickett said. "We got some good opportunities out of our traps, and had some chances early on to get back within single digits, and we'd miss a shot or turn the ball over ourselves."
Balance was the key for the Dukes. Six players scored at least six points, and three players grabbed at least six rebounds.
Cal Jarrett (19 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists), Carr (17 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists) and Isaiah Roby (7 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks) all stuffed the stat sheet, while Kyle LeBlanc (9 points, 4 rebounds) did dirty work inside, Matt Coffey (8 points) knocked down a pair of big 3s, and Nate Gascoigne (6 points) slipped behind the defense on more than one occasion.
"We had a height advantage, but we also thought we could beat them off the dribble," Jarrett said. "We got the ball to the open guys in position to score, and we came ready tonight to do what we had to do to get this win."
Without 6-foot-6 post Daegan Wharff, who was not with the Rockets for undisclosed reasons, the 6-7 Roby and 6-3 Jarrett had a field day against the interior of the Rock Falls defense. Roby dominated the boards, Jarrett was getting his pull-up jumper any time he wanted, and when the defense did collapse on those two, Carr and Coffey were open outside, and LeBlanc was available on the weak side.
"I was pleased with how we executed our offense; we did a great job getting the ball into the right spots and finding good shots," Mead said. "But credit Brad and their kids, because they rebounded more aggressively than us, and never gave up or gave in. We gave up too many good looks, and we have to learn from this win and keep moving forward."
Dixon's 9-0 run, capped by Gascoigne's bucket off a loose ball, made it a 12-2 game and forced a Rock Falls timeout just 3 minutes, 57 seconds into the first quarter. After the teams traded scores for the rest of the first period, Dixon opened the second with a 12-4 spurt – in workmanlike fashion – to make it 31-14 and really take control.
The Rockets never got closer than 15 the rest of the first half, and after a 12-5 blitz to start the second half, the Dukes led 54-28. They held at least 17-point lead the rest of the way.
"We wanted to make them earn everything they got tonight," Jarrett said, "and we wanted to make sure we got easy looks on our end."
"We stopped their penetration into the middle," Carr added, "and used our size to stay in front of them and force them out of their flow."
Mammosser led the Rockets with 10 points, while Austin Donoho added eight points, and team highs of four rebounds and two assists. Tanner Dean chipped in seven points and two steals, and Logan Pillars and Cory McCallister scored six each, with McCallister nabbing three steals and Pillars dishing two assists.
"It's a work in progress," Bickett said. "It'll come, but slowly. We're building some character right now, and hopefully the kids will stay positive and the leaders will show some real leadership."
Dixon 70, Rock Falls 48
Star of the game: Laron Carr, Dixon, 17 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists
Key performers: Cal Jarrett, Dixon, 19 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists; Isaiah Roby, Dixon, 7 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks; Jacob Mammosser, RF, 10 points; Austin Donoho, RF, 8 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists
Up next: Rock Falls at Lutheran, 7:15 p.m. Friday; Dixon at Streator, 7:30 p.m. Friday