Dixon nets career-high as Tigers stay unbeaten
Story by Darren Hellwege
Photos by Kaveh Kaghazi
Mizzou's Michael Dixon (11) had three steals to go along with his 30 points. The Tigers moved to 11-0 with the 94-56 win.
The Missouri Tigers men’s basketball team ran their record to 11-0 for the first time in 30 years as sixth man Michael Dixon scored 30 and the Tigers beat William & Mary 94-56 at Mizzou Arena on Sunday. The Tigers remain unbeaten as they prepare for their matchup Thursday against Illinois at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
The game looked like it might be an even bigger blowout than it turned out to be when the Tigers started the game with ferocious defense, holding the Tribe scoreless through more than 10 minutes. There was 8:28 left in the first half and the score was 19-0 before William & Mary got its first points.
That defense has been a big key to their fast start, and it was a point of emphasis Sunday. “We talked before about being solid and staying solid. With these smart teams, we have to stay with our defensive principles,” said Mizzou senior guard Kim English. The Tigers held the Tribe to 22.7 percent field goal shooting in the first half. The Tribe did improve considerably in the second half, making 14 of 31 field goal attempts.
Playing a team like William & Mary could prove valuable as the Tigers prepare for the Illini.“They (Illinois) are tough, and they compete,” said Missouri coach Frank Haith. “They’re patient offensively, so we’ve gotten good preparation from teams we’ve played recently.” In addition to William & Mary, Navy plays a similar style of patient, disciplined offense. Missouri beat the Midshipmen 84-59 last weekend.
Aside from Dixon’s 30, three other starters scored in double figures, with English putting up 17, and Matt Pressey and Ricardo Ratliffe each notching 11. But it was the play of Dixon that was most impressive, even when he wasn’t scoring.
In perhaps the prettiest play of the season, Dixon put a perfect pass on the rim to Marcus Denmon who leaped across the lane, caught the ball near the basket and without turning around tossed in a perfect reverse no-look layup. Dixon said of the play, “(William & Mary) did a lot of ball-watching. Marcus looked at me, I looked at him, Marcus cut and I put the ball on the rim. He just put it in.”
Haith was also impressed with Dixon’s play. “I love his tenacity, and what (ESPN commentator Dick) Vitale called his ‘swag’.” Haith was asked about Dixon’s “sixth man” role, where he comes off the bench rather than started, saying, “it’s not who starts, it’s who finishes. And Mike will be there at the end a lot, especially as good a free throw shooter as he is.”
Dixon has made a remarkable 40-42 free throw attempts this year (95.2 percent). Marcus Denmon is also shooting better than 90 percent from the free throw line. Haith also said of Dixon, “He’ll be getting starter minutes,” and that was the case Sunday as he played 28 minutes, as much as Denmon and more than any other starter except Matt Pressey.
The Tigers now stand at 11-0 for the first time since Norm Stewart’s tremendous Tiger squad of 1981-82 started 19-0 behind Ricky Frazier and Marvin “Moon” McCrary. That team finished 27-4 and were Big 8 champions before losing a one-point upset to Houston in the NCAA tournament’s second round.
That kind of accomplishment is a long way off for this year’s team, and after Sunday’s game nobody was talking about anything beyond Thursday. The Busch Braggin’ Rights game has become one of the best rivalry games for Missouri, and Dixon says he’s looking forward to it.
“My freshman year was humbling (the Tigers lost 75-59, though Dixon didn’t play) and the next year was a great game (an 81-68 MU victory).”
Asked if first-year coach Haith needed to be told about the rivalry with Illinois, English laughed. “He’s coached in the ACC. He’s seen some pretty good rivalries.”
“Obviously we’d love to beat them,” English said. “It’s a huge game, one of those where you can throw out the ranking and the records.”
That may be true, but the records do make the game all the more exciting. While the Tigers stand as one of just seven unbeaten teams in the nation, the Illini fell from that list this weekend, suffering 64-48 loss to UNLV Saturday at the United Center in Chicago. The other unbeaten to fall was Xavier, which lost to Oral Roberts while playing without four players who were suspended after the Musketeers got into a brawl late in the game with their cross-town rivals Cincinnati.
While most of the Illini’s wins have come against lesser-known opponents, they have bested one nationally-ranked team as they beat No. 19 Gonzaga 82-75 in Champaign.
• Haith is only the second coach in Missouri history to win his first 11 games as a Tiger, but has a way to go to catch the record. Craig Ruby won his first 17 in the 1920-21 season.
• Both Dixon and Denmon are ahead of the pace of Brian Grawer’s team record for free throw percentage in a season. Grawer hit .905 in the 1999-2000 season. Dixon’s career mark was .858 prior to Sunday’s game, in which he made the one free throw he attempted. The career record for the Tigers is held by Hall of Famer Jon Sundvold, with a mark of .848 playing from 1980-1983.
• Prior to weekend play, MU was ranked fourth in the nation in fewest turnovers with 9.7 a game, and it’s likely to remain highly ranked, giving up just six against the Tribe. The Tigers lead the Big 12 in that stat.
• The Tigers beat William & Mary by 38, boosting their average margin of victory to 28.4 on the year, which if it stands would also break a team record for margin of victory in non-conference games. The win against William & Mary was the Tigers 66th non-conference home win in a row.
• Missouri had 11 steals Sunday, led by three each from English and Dixon, and average better than 10 per game this season. They lead the league and are in the top 10 nationally in that statistic, in which they either led or finished second in the nation the last three seasons.
• English spoke about the work MU will put in over the semester break following Sunday’s game. University of Missouri students finished final exams last week, and the spring semester doesn’t begin until Jan. 17. English said he doesn’t know how team practices will change as this is the first year under Haith, but said it’s a time without classwork for players to put special emphasis outside of practice on individual work. “If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. We can’t afford to revel in an 11-0 start.”
- The Tigers play Thursday in St. Louis against Illinois (10-1). Illinois leads the series with Missouri, 27-14. After losing nine in a row to the Illini, Missouri has won the last two including a 75-64 win last season.
- Friday, Dec. 30, Mizzou plays at Old Dominion. The Monarchs are 5-5, having lost Saturday to Richmond 61-53. Their most impressive game of the year may be a loss, as they fell by only 10 to Kentucky, 62-52. ODU has played Missouri four times, the Tigers winning each including an 81-58 win last year in Columbia.
- Jan. 3 marks the start of the final season of Big 12 play for Missouri, as they welcome the Oklahoma Sooners. The Sooners, under first-year head coach Lon Kruger, are a very surprising 8-1 on the year after their win over Houston Saturday. The Sooners lead the overall series with MU 112-95, but the Tigers have the edge in Columbia 61-31. Missouri beat the Sooners last year in Columbia 84-61.
Mizzou’s Michael Dixon (11) had three steals to go along with his 30 points. The Tigers moved to 11-0 with the 94-56 win.
Mizzou forward Kadeem Green (15) and William & Mary’s Quinn McDowell jump for a loose ball.
William & Mary guard Brandon Britt (12) attempts a shot over Ricardo Ratliffe (10) and Phil Pressey (1). Mizzou held the Tribe to 35.8 percent shooting.
Mizzou forward Ricardo Ratliffe (10) leads a fast break on his way to two of his 11 points.
Mizzou coach Frank Haith led the No. 10 Tigers to their first 11-0 start since the 1981-1982 season.
Steve Moore (32) and Kadeem Green (15) defend a layup attempt by William & Mary guard Matt Rum.
William & Mary’s Marcus Thornton shoots over Matt Pressey (3) in the second half.
Mizzou forward Andrew Jones (left) scored his first two points as a Tiger Sunday. Jones also plays tight end on the Mizzou football team.
Mizzou’s Matt Pressey (3) hit five of his six shot attempts including this three-pointer in the second half.