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Orem star forward Dalton Nixon toed the free-throw line and bent at the knees. A season and a title were riding on the next few seconds, on the next ball he would release from his fingertips. He took a breath and reassured himself. He'd been there a thousand times.
But what happened next was not how he had imagined it while shooting free throws in an empty gym after practice, or as a kid in the driveway on a warm summer morning. The shot felt good when he let it go, but it hit the back of rim, then the front. It lipped out, and the Tigers' season was dead.
Bountiful snagged the rebound and the remaining two seconds ticked away, into the thick Huntsman Center air. The Braves were Class 4A state champions, and the high school career of Nixon, one of the best players in the state, had ended in stunning heartbreak.
"That'll always haunt me," Nixon said after his missed pair of free throws with two seconds left ended the Tigers' title chances.
"But I'm just proud to play with my brothers and my teammates. We made a great run this year and I'm proud of that. Obviously things weren't how we wanted it to finish, but life goes on."
Nixon had envisioned his career ending a different way. One of the greatest players to ever play at Orem he broke the school's career points record midway through the season Nixon had dreamed of standing in the middle of a frantic celebration at midcourt. He had dreamed of cradling a state title trophy in his arms and of twirling a few inches of crystal-white net between his fingers.
But destiny intervened Saturday afternoon in the Huntsman Center. And it was not on Nixon's side.
"The second one felt good," he said. "I thought it was going to drop. … It was a tough one. Kind of just disbelief at that point."
Nixon's disappointment was visible after the game. But through it, he was optimistic, insisting the story didn't end at the Huntsman Center free-throw line.
The forward will play at BYU following an LDS Church mission.
And at some point, he said, he will have an opportunity to win a game with two free throws for the Cougars. And the outcome then will be different.
"You know," he said, "I'm going to knock those down next time."