DIXON – After watching his team start Saturday’s game slowly, Dixon coach Nick Oraham wanted to make sure the Dukes didn’t do the same thing coming out of the locker room for the second half.
So after doling out halftime instructions, he was pleased to see his players listened. Dixon scored 13 straight points early in the third quarter to grab a lead it wouldn’t relinquish in a 55-47 victory over Stillman Valley in a Big Northern clash at Lancaster Gym.
“Coach mostly just told us in the locker room [at halftime] that we had to have more intensity,” Dixon junior Beau Bailey said. “We started off in the first half very slow, and in the second half we finally clicked and got everything together.
“That’s the kind of intensity we have to have all game, not just sometimes.”
Dixon (12-12, 4-2) trailed 23-12 with 5 minutes left in the second quarter, but started turning things around. Elijah McGlown knocked down a 3-pointer off a skip pass from Bailey, then Bailey scored a fast-break layup on an assist from Derian Duncan before Duncan hit a jumper to make it 23-19.
Stillman Valley (8-13, 0-5) led 25-19 at the break, then made the first basket of the third quarter for a 27-19 lead. But that’s when the Dukes made their move, as they used a 13-0 run over a span of 3 minutes, 20 seconds to turn that eight-point deficit into a 32-27 lead.
A pretty pick-and-roll from Bailey to Keenan Beard kicked off the spurt, then Gabe Sohn assisted on two straight 3-pointers from the high post: a handoff to Oscar Van Sickle, then a skip-court pass to Duncan. With the score tied at 27, Bailey scored the next five points on a free throw, a drive into the lane and a hesitation dribble drive to the basket.
“It felt like we were back to playing how we should be,” Duncan said. “Coach told us to get our swagger back, and our team believed in each other and ramped it up on defense, which led to offense.
“Then after that run, we knew we had to keep the lead and keep pushing. It was all about getting stops on defense and running the offense.”
The Cardinals got back within 34-33 with 1:18 left in the third, but the Dukes slammed the door with another spurt. Van Sickle knocked down a 3 off McGlown’s offensive rebound, then Beard scored on a pretty drive-and-dish by Duncan to close the quarter. Bailey scored back-to-back layups to start the fourth period – one on a baseline drive and another on the fast break – and then scored on a pretty up-and-under move in the lane for a 45-35 lead.
Another high-post kick-out for 3 – this one from Beard to Bailey – made it 48-35 Dukes with 3:17 to play. The Cardinals got no closer than seven points the rest of the way.
“The dribble drives are a big part of our game,” said Bailey, who was 7-for-8 from the field in the second half. “We got some layups, then that opened up the kicks to the perimeter. Oscar is shooting amazing right now, Derian was knocking down shots, and it was all just working out.
“Our shots weren’t really falling, so we just tried to get to the rim to open up our offense.”
The biggest difference was converting their extra opportunities. Stillman turned the ball over 21 times in the game, but Dixon didn’t start capitalizing on the sloppy play until the second half. The Dukes scored 10 points directly off those turnovers, and also benefited because it cost the Cardinals several possessions as they tried to mount a comeback.
“Turnovers and run-outs were the difference in the game,” Stillman coach Dan Cameron said. “We even talked about turnovers at halftime, but a couple times we threw the ball in the wrong spot, and we had guys driving into three or four rather than kicking it out to open guys.
“And then the times when we did kick it out, we didn’t make shots, either, and you’ve got to have a few of them go down. We had that lull in the third where we just couldn’t score, and they started making some shots – which I kind of figured was going to happen – and that’s kind of when I thought, ‘OK, this will be tough.’”
Bailey finished with 22 points on 10-for-17 shooting, and also had five steals, four assists and three rebounds. Duncan had 15 points, seven steals and two assists, and Van Sickle added 11 points and three rebounds. Beard had four points, five boards and a block, Sohn dished three assists, and McGlown chipped in three points, four rebounds and two assists.
Chad Gerig led Stillman with 15 points, Matt Mandzen scored 13, and both finished with three rebounds, two assists and two steals. Luke Roberts added eight points and six rebounds for a Cardinals squad that had a limited rotation with some players out with the flu, including starter Austin Webb.