Early in BYU’s 91-78 win over No. 2 Gonzaga at the Marriott Center last Saturday, senior guard TJ Haws drew a charge and pointed to fellow senior Dalton Nixon on the bench.
A few moments later, Haws drew another charge and again pointed to Nixon.
“Teej pointed to me after the first one and I was super hyped,” Nixon said. “As soon as he had the second one I jumped up and down on the floor. He fell down by the basketball standard and we pointed to each other.”
Until his double ankle sprain against Loyola Marymount on Feb. 13, taking charges was kind of Nixon’s thing.
“This toughness and ways to affect the game on the defensive end, I’ve really been able to find this role of taking charges and forcing turnovers,” he said. “We’ve been trying to expand that to other guys on the team. For TJ to step up and make plays on the defensive end, it’s really awesome for me to see.”
Nixon is hoping to make it back for the NCAA Tournament, which begins the third week of March. The 17th-ranked Cougars are 12-3 in West Coast Conference play and 22-7 overall. Their resume is strong and can be built upon this weekend with their final regular season game against Pepperdine.
Nixon said he has found ways to be active while sitting on the bench.
“First off, I think what really keeps me engaged is the thought that I’m going to be back soon, but mentally for me I want to impact the game any way I can,” Nixon said. “Being on the sideline now, I can really spend a lot of my time focusing on our bigs and try to be an anchor for them. I try to be a coach on the sideline for them. I have a good feel for the game, especially what the game plan is and what our coaches want. For me to be able to communicate as best I can to guys on floor is the way I’ve been able to impact the game so far.”
Ask any coach to describe a player on their team and you might get a generic response.
BYU coach Mark Pope’s response to the importance of Nixon on this team is anything but generic.
“On offense Dalton is such an extraordinary ball mover and pace creator,” Pope said. “It’s one of the things that is the special sauce to what we do on the offensive end. It manifests itself in all kinds of way with him playing pop and roll basketball and by him chasing ball screens full speed. He’s our best slip guy. He’s actually a full-run slip guy, not a slide-slide-step slip guy. It manifest itself with how hard he pops, how well he spaces floor and shoots the ball in transition.
On the defensive end, he steals possessions from other teams. He finds ways to steal possessions with drawing charge or a timely steal in the post, or knocking the ball away and coming up with deflections. It’s a huge part of what we do.”
With Nixon out, senior forward Zac Seljaas stepped in to make a lot of those kinds of effort plays that impact the game so much. Seljaas’ hustle plays were a key component to the upset of Gonzaga.
“Dalton stepped in and saved everybody else and now it’s everybody’s time to step in and save Dalton for a little while,” Pope said.
But clearly, the Cougars will be better when Nixon returns to the court.
“He’s working hard and doing everything he can,” Pope said. “It’s just a time right now. He’s doing pool and bike, alternating every day. He’s taking all kinds of these reconstructive replenishing shakes and pills. He’s doing everything humanly possible to get back. I have a lot of confidence he’s going to get back.”
Nixon said he’s watched the play where he got injured against Loyola Marymount a dozen times and still doesn’t quite know what happened.
Nixon’s wife, Taylen, plays on the BYU women’s volleyball team and has experienced injury as well. As a sophomore, Taylen tore her ACL and missed most of the 2018 season.
“For her, she was stuck in bed and on crutches for a long time dealing with that ACL tear,” Nixon said. “I think this has given her just enough that she can handle a few weeks to take care of me. But at this point she’s ready for me to get out of the boot and start doing my own thing again.”
Nixon will make the road trip to Malibu for Saturday’s game to support his teammates from the bench.
“I think as we’ve faced the adversity of the season we’ve done a really good job of sticking with the same goal,” he said. “Our mindset has been locked in at 100 percent and we’re trying to get better every day. We can’t focus too much on the destination and where we want to go because we have so much at hand right now.”