ROCHELLE — Dixon’s Jacob Gaither was the best player on both ends of the floor Monday night, when the Rochelle Hub varsity basketball team hosted the Dukes in nonconference action.
Gaither led all scorers with 32 points, but his defense in the fourth quarter created several Rochelle turnovers and allowed the Dukes to close the game on a 14-2 run. Despite the Hubs briefly holding the lead after a 3-pointer from sophomore Eli Luxton, Gaither and the Dukes rallied to stun Rochelle 55-46. The Hubs fell to 2-4 on the season with the loss to Dixon.
“Jacob was the best player on the floor tonight,” head coach Tim Thompson said. “He’s the best player in the area and I think he believes that because he plays with that type of confidence. I thought our guys were intimidated by him. He kept going inside and we didn’t have an answer for him. When we’re going up against an All-State caliber player, we have to compete against him and that’s not what we did tonight. We backed off and he took control.”
Gaither drilled two 3-pointers and scored 14 of his points in the first quarter to ignite the Dukes, who limited the Hubs to only three field goals and took a 20-8 lead. Looking for a spark, Rochelle turned up its defense in the second quarter, forcing the ball away from Gaither and toward Dixon’s supporting cast, which struggled to knock down shots. The Hubs held the Dukes without a made field goal in the second quarter, coming back and slipping ahead 25-24 at half.
“We knew we had to just lock down and try our best,” Thompson said. “We have to figure out why we aren’t playing with that energy from the start of the game. It’s been like pulling teeth trying to prod our kids into getting going. I have to figure out what makes our kids click at the beginning of the game. They’re all such nice kids, but they’re all such quiet kids.”
Rochelle converted multiple 3-pointers in the second half including two from senior Adam Kemp, who led the Hubs with 12 points on four triples Monday. Senior Ryan Simmons also fired up the home crowd with a pair of second-half dunks for four of his eight points.
But the Dukes successfully regained the lead 36-31 entering the fourth quarter, where the Hubs struggled to handle the ball against the Dixon defense, which forced several traps leading to turnovers.
“We’re so methodical in everything we do,” Thompson said. “We don’t dart to our spots, we don’t snap passes, we don’t make the extra pass and that makes everything difficult. Our forwards need to get to their spots and hold players off, but our guards also have to get the ball from side to side. We’re dribbling so much that we can’t get the ball inside. We have to be able to shift zones and look defenders off so we aren’t having passes deflected.”
Trailing 44-41, Dixon scored 12 straight points before a layup from Simmons ended the run. Senior Tanner Lager totaled nine points in the loss, with Luxton adding six on two 3-pointers.