DIXON – Michael Conley couldn't have dreamed up a better start to his Senior Night at Lancaster Gym.
The Dixon 12th-grader scored the Dukes' first six points on a pair of 3-pointers from the top of the key Friday night against Ottawa, and he had eight of Dixon's 14 first-quarter points as the Dukes jumped out to an early lead on the NIB-12 West-leading Pirates.
But Ottawa found its rhythm on both ends of the court in the second half, and clinched the conference crown with one game remaining with a 65-53 victory.
"Coach [Jason Mead] told me that I was open, to hit that shot," Conley said. "We knew [Ottawa center Jacob] Draper liked to sag inside on defense, and we were prepared to hit those outside shots."
Dixon (19-5, 7-2) fed off Conley's early energy, building a 19-7 lead after Isaiah Roby's putback and Cal Jarrett's 3-pointer less than 2 minutes into the second quarter.
But Ottawa (21-1, 9-0) fought back to within six (25-19) by halftime, then opened the second half with a 14-4 run to take the lead for good.
"We came out really well, got that big lead, and were feeling good," Mead said, "then Isaiah got into foul trouble and we lost the only size we have, relative to Ottawa. It started looking like giants versus … well, people that aren't as tall out there."
The Pirates' surge consisted of inside buckets from Draper (8 points, 4 rebounds) and the outside shooting of star John Carroll. Carroll, whom the Dukes held scoreless in the first half, exploded for 19 points after the break, and sparked Ottawa's rally.
It carried over onto the defensive end of the floor, as well. The Dukes hit just three of their 11 third-quarter shots, and the open jumpers on the perimeter from the first half were no longer available.
"Cal [Jarrett] did a great job against John in the first half, but then we had to switch to a zone because of foul trouble," Mead said. "He got away from us a couple of times to get their offense going, then they just cut us off defensively."
"They're just so long, and we had trouble shooting over them," Conley added. "The looks we were getting in the first half just weren't there in the second half."
With the offense starting to stagnate, Dixon turned to Jarrett and Laron Carr for its scoring. But after Jarrett's three-point play pulled the Dukes to within 33-32 with 3:21 left in the third quarter, the Pirates closed the period on a 7-2 spurt.
Kyle LeBlanc turned Jarrett's drive-and-dish into a layup to open the fourth quarter, but Carroll nailed a 3 off a kick-out pass from Draper for a 44-36 lead. The Dukes got no closer than eight points over the final 6 minutes.
"We weren't very disruptive defensively in the first half, and Dixon did what they wanted and played at a very comfortable pace," Ottawa coach Mark Cooper said. "We challenged the kids a little bit, and I thought we had a lot more energy on both ends of the floor in the second half, played more aggressive defense and got some easier shot opportunities."
The loss ends Dixon's chances of a first conference title since 1966-67, but leaves some other goals on the table. Next up: reaching that 20-win plateau for just the third time in program history, and first time since that same season.
"One goal is out the door now," Mead said, "so we have to focus on the next one."
"It's all about hard work in practice, watching film and really preparing well," Conley added. "Now we have to rise to the next challenge."
Jarrett finished with 14 points, eight rebounds, two assists and two blocks for Dixon, while Conley had 10 points and four rebounds, and Kyle LeBlanc added 11 points. Carr dished four assists to go with nine points, and Roby chipped in four points and 10 rebounds in limited action.
"I have a lot of respect for Dixon, and the job Jason has done engineering this terrific turnaround," Cooper said. "There are a lot of bright days ahead for the Dukes."
For the Pirates, Isaac Gassman matched Carroll's 19 points, and he also nabbed two steals; Carroll chipped in four rebounds. Brett Johnson matched Draper's eight points, and Cody Stokes added four points, six rebounds and three steals.
Ottawa 65, Dixon 53
Star of the game: John Carroll, Ottawa, 19 points, all in 2nd half, 4 rebounds
Key performers: Isaac Gassman, Ottawa, 19 points, 2 steals; Cal Jarrett, Dixon, 14 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks; Michael Conley, Dixon, 10 points, 4 rebounds
Up next: Dixon at Indian Creek, 7 p.m. today