PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — After starting every game last year, Bilal Dixon had a rough beginning to this season, in which first-year Providence coach Ed Cooley sat him for some games and started him in others. But an assistant coach pulled Dixon aside on Tuesday and told him to keep his head up.
Apparently, the pep talk worked.
Dixon scored a career-high 18 points and had 10 rebounds to lead the Friars to a 78-67 victory over Rutgers on Wednesday night.
"He just told me to go out there and play through it, that my time would come," Dixon said. "My time came tonight."
Point guard Vincent Council added 11 points and 14 assists for the Friars, who had lost four straight and eight of their previous nine games.
"I think we have the best point guard in the league," Cooley said. "Every night, their best defender is trying to guard him, and he just continues to play at a really high level."
Rutgers (12-11, 4-6 Big East) whittled the deficit to 64-60 with 2:38 remaining after switching to a full-court press midway through the second half, but the Scarlet Knights got no closer the rest of the way.
Bryce Cotton hit two 3-pointers in 20 seconds, both on assists from Council, to give the Friars (13-10, 2-8) a 70-60 lead with 1:51 remaining. Cotton finished with 17 points.
"They just went and did what they wanted to do tonight," said Rutgers coach Mike Rice. "We're not ready to be consistent yet."
Myles Mack led the Scarlet Knights with 16 points, and Gilvydas Biruta added 13 points and 11 rebounds.
LaDontae Henton, one of five Friars who finished in double figures, had 15 points and nine rebounds. Gerard Coleman also scored 15.
"Today we got monster performances all over the place," Cooley said.
Providence began the game with a 7-1 run in the first 2:11, but the Scarlet Knights tied it 11-11 less than 4 minutes later.
Henton scored four straight points in the middle of the half to spark a 25-5 run that lasted nearly until the break. Coleman finished the scoring spree with an alley-oop dunk and free throw that made it 40-24 with 1:12 remaining.
Rutgers' Jerome Seagears charged the length of the court and hit a buzzer beater from the lane to make it 40-26 at the break. It was only the third time this season that the Scarlet Knights had given up 40 points in the first half.
Council had 11 points and 10 assists by halftime, guaranteeing him his seventh double-double of the season. Henton, who was coming off a career-high 33-point performance in an 81-78 loss at South Florida on Sunday, also had 11 points in the half.
Rutgers cut into the lead and trimmed it to four points with 6:49 remaining in the second half.
Neither team was able to pull away until Cotton's two knockout 3- pointers.
The Friars are now 10-3 at their home, the Dunkin' Donuts Center.
"There is something magical about the Dunk," Cooley said. "I always think we're going to win in this place."
Before the game, Providence released a statement saying Sidiki Johnson, a 6-foot-9, 235-pound forward who had been suspended at Arizona on Nov. 21, will transfer to the school next season.
Johnson, who left the Arizona program 13 days after being suspended, played a total of 7 minutes over three games for the Wildcats this season and averaged 0.3 points and 0.7 rebounds per game.
He was ranked the No. 11 power forward recruit before the season by Rivals.com.
"We're really proud to have him as part of our family," Cooley said. "He was in class today. And he was on time."