Missouri freshman impresses in NCAA men's basketball tournament

Sunday, March 28, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA With the clock winding down on the Missouri men’s basketball team’s season, a man sitting a few rows behind the Tigers’ bench yelled something at coach Mike Anderson.

“Get Dixon in the game!” he said.

The man wore a brown shirt and was likely a non-partisan spectator of Missouri’s season-ending loss to West Virginia last Sunday in the NCAA Tournament’s second round.

But he was a fan of Michael Dixon Jr. The way Dixon played last Sunday, he likely turned many indifferent observers at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, N.Y., into his newest fans.

Dixon, a freshman, made layups exciting to watch. He took off near the free-throw line and looked like he was climbing invisible steps as he elevated to the basket. He ducked under defenders in mid-air and spun in shots high off the backboard. On defense, he bothered players by waving his arms like he was stranded on an island trying to get the attention of a rescue plane.

Dixon had been an exciting player all year, but he shifted his non-stop motor into high gear last weekend. He scored a team-high 15 points against West Virginia in 17 minutes, about half the time played by most of Missouri’s starters.

His most impressive act was quickly and confidently shooting (and making) several 3-point attempts when the Tigers most needed a basket.

This guy’s a freshman?

“If you didn’t see his class on the TV or if you didn’t know him, you would think he was a senior,” teammate Laurence Bowers said after the game. “The guy played with his heart, and you’ve got to admire a guy like that.”

And this was the NCAA Tournament, not some early-season nonconference home game against a no-name school.

“There’s still two goals, there’s still four quarters and we’re still playing against people that put their shorts on just like we do, so that’s how I try to look at it every game,” Dixon said after the game.

Some perspective for a freshman, who is all but a lock to start next year with seniors J.T. Tiller and Zaire Taylor leaving.

Two Tigers have surgery: Justin Safford had surgery Monday to repair the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, Anderson said during his final press conference of the season Friday. It will be six months before Safford is able to practice, Anderson said.

Bowers underwent surgery Wednesday to fix the two torn ligaments in his left wrist. Anderson said he will be able to practice in two months.

“That’s a guy I’m real proud of,” Anderson said. “He’s playing out there with one hand for the most part, and I thought he was pretty impressive, so can you imagine with two hands?”

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