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Dixon's game takes on different feel

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Dion Dixon is feeling the urgency of his senior year and it showed Saturday in the stat sheet.

CINCINNATI - Saturday, for the 127th time in his life, Dion Dixon walked on the floor wearing a University of Cincinnati basketball uniform. For the 63rd time, he heard his name announced as a starting guard.

But this game felt different -- significantly different.

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"This is my last go-around," the senior said. "It definitely feels different being in the situation we are in, must-win games. It feels different, but I go out there and just try to give my all and help the team out today."

Nobody can deny Dixon did that. Sure, Dixon drained 2 of 4 shots from behind the arc and attacked the bucket to earn 10 free throws, making eight. His 20 points marked the seventh time this season he crossed the 15-point barrier.

All those numbers were above average, but close to standard for a guy who passed Tom Thacker for 28th place in UC's all-time scoring list.

The noticeable difference, though, arrived in the myriad alternate ways he affected the 62-57 outcome.

For a guy constantly prodded by Mick Cronin for his lack of rebounding, he's grabbed 12 the last two games after snagging as many as his own coach the previous two.

A guy who blocked three shots during the first 12 Big East conference games, rejected five this week alone.

A guy who only contributed more than two assists five times in conference play utilized the drive-and-kick to perfection against the Pirates defense to spring an early double-digit lead. Dixon either scored or assisted on 10 of the first 21 points. It was a deficit the Pirates, ultimately, couldn't recover from.

For those counting at home, that's 20 points, six boards, five assists, two blocks, one steal. Oh, and add one more stat to the sufficiently stuffed box score: One win.

"I wish I had Dion," Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. "I think the staff here has done a terrific job with him in giving him great opportunities to score. He's a senior, he's tough, he's been through it. I love everything about Dion. You just love watching him play."

Well, maybe for one day Willard didn't so much enjoy the view.

Dixon was far from perfect, of course. Cronin pointed to his struggles connecting inside the 3-point line where he was 3 of 10. On three possessions an errant dribble or poor decision led to a turnover. There's a wide gap between imperfect and uninspired play. Dixon illustrated the latter can make up for the former.

"I got to do a better job with him on making shots inside the paint," Cronin said. "He was aggressive. No doubt about that."

His defensive aggression typified a specific gameplan that shifted the shape of Saturday to the home sideline. One possession after assisting a critical Cashmere Wright 3-pointer, Dixon lifted toward Aaron Cosby behind the arc on the wing and produced one of the more athletic rejections of the season to hold a double-digit lead. His extended reach kept a hand in the face of Pirates shooters that hit just 4 of 20 from deep.

"The 3 is their life-blood, their younger guys are all very good shooters," Cronin said. "They only made four and two were Wilson and Alda. Their primary shooters only made two. We felt if we eliminated the three and transition they couldn't score enough to win the game."

While the block at the 3-point line showed off a strategy, in Dixon's mind, it wasn't even the best of the day.

"I like the one on Herb Pope better," he said.

Hard not to. Dixon's rejection of the 6-foot-8, 236-pound forward wasn't only against the physical odds, but served as the exclamation point of a Yancy Gates dunk on the other end with under four minutes remaining. A few tense moments littered a formality to the finish from that point forward.

Consequently, Dixon's senior year drew one step closer to ending at the game's biggest stage. That was a result he used every ounce of his energy to assure came to fruition.

He produced on a big stage with the fate of the final chapter of a college career on the line. Yeah, that's different. And it will continue to be.

"I think we still in a must-win situation," Dixon said. "Early in the season we have some tough losses that don't look good on our resume. We got the same urgency every game. We feel like we must win out."

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