CEDAR CITY – For three quarters, the Dixie Flyers kept pace with the Cedar Redmen, but couldn’t find the right combinations to take control.
After Tyler Bennett’s strong first half on offense, his teammates turned on the defense in the second half and left town with a key victory.
Bennett led the way with 20 points and R.J. Wilgar added 17 — 10 in the fourth quarter — as Dixie broke open a tight game and beat Cedar 59-48 on Wednesday night at the CHS gym. The Flyers moved into sole possession of second place in Region 9 with a 3-1 record (11-3 overall).
When Dixie made the adjustment off a man-to-man defense, it paid off with a 7-0 run at the start of the fourth quarter that turned a three-point lead into a 49-39 advantage.
“We couldn’t guard anyone man-to-man,” Flyers head coach Ryan Cuff said. “When we went to the zone, it stopped their penetration after they got anything they wanted in the first half.
“I appreciate the kids being coachable and sticking with the game plan. With Cedar, it’s always a battle coming up here.”
The Redmen (2-2, 7-5) had their chances to stay within range, but two key turnovers midway through the fourth quarter slowed their comeback attempt. Dixie was a perfect 8 of 8 from the free-throw line in the final eight minutes to help them secure the victory.
The Flyers made more free throws in the game (10) than Cedar attempted (8).
Cuff credited Bennett for helping keep Dixie close in the opening half.
“He took a load on when other guys struggled a bit,” Cuff said of Bennett. “R.J. really stepped up and did the same thing (in the second half), and Nate Crockett hit a big 3-pointer.”
Crockett answered a Kyle Wood basket with his hoop that started what proved to be the game-clinching run.
“This win is a big confidence booster for us because Cedar is one of the hardest places to play on the road,” Bennett said.
Jace Wilkerson led Cedar with 14 points, while Ben Brown and Jeff Rogers added 12 apiece. Head coach Craig Cardon said the defensive adjustments made by Dixie took his team out of its offensive rhythm.
“Our effort didn’t change. Our ability to make baskets changed,” Cardon said. “We weren’t able to make shots and we were less aggressive going to the basket when they were in the zone on defense.
“Dixie has athletic, talented kids, and we battled and competed with them for 32 minutes.”
Neither team led by more than five points in the first half, and the lead changed hands eight times. The last came when Wilkerson got inside for a hoop and completed the three-point play, but Wilgar hit a jumper in the closing seconds to knot the score at 29-29 at the break.
After Brown hit a driving layup to give Cedar its last lead of the night at 35-34 in the third quarter, Bennett hit a pair of hoops to help Dixie close the period with an 8-2 run and put them up for good at 42-37 heading to the fourth.
Follow Tom Zulewski on Twitter, @Tomzsports.