COLUMBIA — Mike Dixon will be a freshman for the rest of the season, and there’s nothing he can do about it.
But Dixon has played more like a seasoned upperclassman in the first 17 games of his college career for the Missouri men’s basketball team.
So it came as a surprise when Dixon committed a turnover late in the game against Texas Tech to allow the Red Raiders to force overtime. Missouri eventually earned a 94-89 win Wednesday in Lubbock, Texas.
With the Tigers leading by two with 20 seconds left, Dixon forced a long pass he intended to throw over Texas Tech’s pressing defenders. The Red Raiders’ Mike Singletary picked it off, and John Roberson made two free throws to force overtime.
Did Dixon’s rare blunder surprise his teammates?
“Yeah, it kind of really did,” said sophomore Marcus Denmon, Dixon’s closest friend on the team.
The mistake was devastating for Dixon.
“I could have died,” Dixon said. “It was real bad. But my teammates and coaches picked me up, told me not to worry about it, play’s over with.”
The encouragement worked. Dixon found himself in a key spot again at the end of overtime. He got fouled with 17 seconds left and Missouri up by one. He coolly knocked down both free throws. Dixon then hit two more foul shots seconds later to seal the Tigers’ first road win of the season.
“I figured that was going to happen,” Denmon said. “He was going to do something to make up for it.”
The error would have been forgivable for a typical freshman, but Dixon doesn’t fit that bill.
“I felt like I owed my team those free throws with the bad turnover, and I felt like I could redeem myself by doing that,” he said.
If anything, Dixon is owed a lot of credit for Missouri’s strong 14-3 start as it tries to extend its winning streak to 10 games at noon tomorrow against Oklahoma in Norman, Okla. The Tigers’ current nine-game winning streak is tied for their longest since coach Mike Anderson arrived in 2006.
And Dixon has contributed as much as any freshman Anderson has had. Dixon is averaging 8.7 points and 18.5 minutes per game, only a few less than Missouri’s more experienced players. He has the best shooting percentage (47.3) among all the team’s guards, leads the team in free throw shooting and is among the team leaders in assists. He's also started seven games and has come up big in some of Missouri's toughest games, like when he scored 16 points to help beat Illinois.
Dixon wasn’t exactly a no-name recruit. He was a heralded point guard at Lee’s Summit West and has been a perfect fit in Anderson’s system.
And so far, he’s been even better than advertised, which made it hard to chalk his costly turnover up as a rookie mistake.
“If I was anybody else, they wouldn’t say it was a freshman mistake," Dixon said.
Still a freshman. But it’s been awfully hard to tell.