Boys basketball: Patience a virtue as Dixon smothers Rock Falls

Dukes dictate tempo, use efficient offense to pull away from host Rockets in BNC rivalry win

Dixon's Cullen Shaner brings the ball upcourt against Rock Falls during their game Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024, at Rock Falls High School.

ROCK FALLS – Patience paid off for Dixon on Tuesday night, leading to efficient offense and stifling defense in a 71-47 win over Rock Falls in a Big Northern Conference rivalry game at Tabor Gym.

The Dukes (22-5, 7-1 BNC) shot 56% from the field (28 for 50), including 50% from 3-point range (8 for 16), and added 13 points off of 10 offensive rebounds while committing just three turnovers.

“We kind of talked about playing at our own pace,” Dixon forward Darius Harrington said. “They were obviously going to try and speed us up, and we just wanted to play our tempo and get what we wanted on offense.”

Dixon's Darius Harrington shoots over Rock Falls' Devin Tanton-DeJesus during their game Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024, at Rock Falls High School.

Leading 10-9 just 36 seconds into the game, Dixon slowed the tempo to its liking and squeezed the life out of the Rockets (17-10, 5-3 BNC). The Dukes outscored Rock Falls 18-8 the rest of the half to build a 28-17 halftime lead.

The first possession of the second quarter was the epitome of Dixon’s offense; it lasted 1:05 and led to a layup by Austin Hicks when Harrington hit him on a baseline cut. That style of play led to a total of 14 possessions in the entire quarter – seven apiece – as the Dukes asserted their preferred pace of play.

“It’s good to see those easy shots open up. Sometimes we’ll be running our offense for a minute and then get a layup. It’s good when our patience pays off,” Hicks said. “We know they’re good at home, and we had to come out and do our thing, take control early, and that’s what we did. It feels good to get a win here.”

The Rockets turned the tide to start the second half, speeding things up and turning it into a 9-1 run to cut the deficit to 33-31 with 4:40 left in the third. Gavin Sands and Kuitim Heald each hit a 3-pointer in the surge, and the transition game and quick ball movement led to more flow on offense.

“Just moving the ball between each other, playing with more energy coming out and playing better defense. Passing the ball was key,” Heald said. “It feels good to hit some shots and get on a little run, especially going into the second half and coming back. We finally got some open looks and we hit them.”

Rock Falls' Aydan Goff is met by Dixon defense during their game Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024, at Rock Falls High School.

But Dixon slowed the game down again and pulled away. Another Hicks layup on a two-man game with Harrington sparked an 11-3 run to close the third, then Hicks hit a 3 off an inbounds play just 11 seconds into the fourth to push the lead to 47-34.

Cullen Shaner’s 3 between layups by Hicks and Bryce Feit pushed the lead to 67-47 midway through the fourth quarter, and both teams emptied their benches for the final 2:10.

“We knew they were going to fight back, but we just slowed it down again and kept doing what we were doing,” Hicks said. “We worked the ball, stayed patient and hit some shots.”

Harrington just missed a double-double with 23 points, nine rebounds and three assists, and Hicks had 22 points on 9-for-12 shooting (including a pair of 3s), three rebounds and five assists for the Dukes. Feit added eight points, two rebounds and two assists, Eli Davidson hit a pair of 3s and had eight points and four rebounds off the bench, and Shaner hit two 3s to finish with six points, four rebounds and three assists. Alex Harrison chipped in four points and two rebounds, and Mason Weigle didn’t score, but he dished four assists as Dixon assisted on 20 of its 28 baskets; the Dukes also outrebounded the Rockets 28-16, including 10-3 on the offensive glass.

“It was really important to crash the boards, and I thought we did a good job with it tonight,” Harrington said. “We realized that if we all crashed the boards, it just led to extra points.”

Dixon's Eli Davidson brings the ball upcourt against Rock Falls during their game Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024, at Rock Falls High School.

Rock Falls shot 46% from the field (18-for-39) and turned the ball over only eight times, but shot just 4-for-13 from deep and couldn’t find its rhythm consistently. Heald had 17 points and three rebounds, Aydan Goff added eight points and two rebounds, and Ryken Howard (2 rebounds), Devin Tanton-DeJesus (3 rebounds, 3 assists) and Sands (3 rebounds, 4 assists) scored six points each. Austin Castaneda chipped in four second-half points for the Rockets.

“It was great seeing those couple of minutes to start the second half – we just need to push through some of those lulls and some of that adversity and try to find our rhythm again. It just didn’t happen; they did a good job of taking us out of it,” Rock Falls coach Zach Sandrock said. “The goal is to put a full game like that together, try and continue to play at that pace even when the other team is trying to dictate the pace and slow us down. We want to try and get back to it, do it on the defensive end and turn it into offense – but they did a good job of taking care of the ball tonight and not allowing us to get into our game.”

Rock Falls' Kuitim Heald eyes the Dixon defense during their game Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024, at Rock Falls High School.