COLUMBIA — Michael Dixon isn't a starter for the Missouri men's basketball team. He is a finisher.
Missouri has used the same starting lineup all season long, and it doesn't include Dixon. Nevertheless, Dixon averages more than 25 minutes per game and is always on the court in the crucial final minutes.
Oklahoma State (12-13, 5-7) at
No. 3 Missouri (23-2,10-2 Big 12)
WHEN: 8 p.m.
WHERE: Mizzou Arena
RADIO: KTGR/1580 AM, 100.5 FM; KCMQ/96.7 FM
"If that's what I have to do for us to win, then I'm gonna do it," Dixon said. "I know my role and Coach Haith has explained to me my role. I want to be out there at the end. I want to finish games."
Closing out games has been an emphasis for this team ever since it failed to close out Oklahoma State in a 79-72 loss on Jan. 25. The Tigers looked in control of the game, leading by seven points with six-and-a-half minutes to play, but were outscored 26-12 after that.
"It was great for a learning experience," Missouri coach Frank Haith said. "We weren't playing well, but we got back in the game, and then we didn't finish the game. The learning part was how we finish the game."
Since then, Missouri has won three games that were decided by three points or less. They get a rematch against Oklahoma State at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Mizzou Arena.
In order to prepare for close late-game situations, Haith has the team play a lot of four-minute and two-minutes games at practice.
"Defense, that's the main thing coach has been harping us on," Phil Pressey said. "You can bring your defense every game, but your offense can come and go."
The Tigers are now 7-1 in games decided by seven or fewer points. The closest game came when Missouri beat Texas 67-66 in Austin, Texas on Jan. 30. Dixon scored the winning basket in that game — a high-arching layup off the top of the backboard.
Making tough layups is one of the things that impresses Haith most about Dixon. Haith compares Dixon to former Texas star T.J. Ford, who now plays for the San Antonio Spurs.
"I love him," Haith said. "I love the way he plays. You can coach him. I can get after Mike, and it doesn't affect him. He's just tough mentally and he's hard-nosed. He's not afraid to take a big shot. He's not afraid to make a big defensive play."
Even though Dixon scores 12.4 points per game, it's his defense that most people notice. Dixon plays good on-the-ball defense by getting in opponents' faces and not allowing them space to dribble.
He made a big defensive play late in Missouri's road win against Baylor by diving for a loose ball to earn the Tigers an extra possession. He also took a charge with less than 10 seconds left against Kansas to help seal that victory.
His presence on both sides of the ball is so sizable that opposing coaches forget that he doesn't start.
"When you have a starter like Dixon — I consider him a starter — come in and do what he can do offensively, it's a great weapon to have," Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said after Missouri beat the Aggies on Jan. 16. Missouri plays Texas A&M again Saturday.
Dixon not only brings his abilities on the court, he also brings his emotion. During the final minutes against Kansas, Dixon raised his arms to get the crowd riled up. When he took a charge from Tyshawn Taylor, he jumped up off the ground clapping his hands.
Dixon is a pain for opponents late in games because he is such a good free-throw shooter. Dixon is a career 85 percent free-throw shooter, the best the program has seen.
"I haven't been around a guy that has the kind of moxie he has," Haith said. "He's pretty special."