Perhaps that reveals a bit of the personality of Nixon – the lone Wisconsin senior with the résumé of 88 games played but the history of serving a role, not entering the limelight. He can joke, yes, but Nixon speaks softly and calmly, relaxed. But on the day in which the man he admires, Pryor, passed away, Nixon shined in perhaps his best performance to date. It was one in which he aggressively made his presence and his identity known to everyone on the court.
The 6-foot-7 Milwaukee native scored a career-high 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting and added three steals as the Badgers upended his hometown Marquette Golden Eagles, 77-63.
"A lot of my teammates have been telling me, they've been telling me lately, ‘Ray, just calm down and shoot the ball. You're a shooter,'" the senior guard/forward said. "I know Kamm [Taylor] and Alando [Tucker] personally, they tell me like every game, ‘Ray, shoot the ball. Try to get open and we'll find you.'"
Taylor said last week that Nixon had not been getting the ball enough, that he was a scorer and it was up to the team to get Nixon more touches. Statistically, Nixon had not been a high scorer for Wisconsin. His previous career high was 10 points in a game last season against Michigan. Entering Saturday Nixon had attempted no more than five shots from the field in any game this season.
Nixon can get the looks though. He is one of the Badgers' better long-range shooters. And as Tucker pointed out after the game, Nixon is someone who typically gets open on the wing when another player penetrates and Nixon's man sags off to help.
"I just tell him to be aggressive because that just gives us another look," Tucker said. "I know he has the potential to do it. I think by him actually becoming aggressive-minded it's helping us out because now he's feeling more comfortable."
Nixon's aggression was evident against Marquette when Tucker began to struggle and foul trouble forced him to the bench. That left Nixon and Taylor as veteran players who needed to lead the team in the absence of its leading scorer.
Nixon scored five points early in the game on jumpers from the outside. However, with the explosive Tucker on the bench or largely contained, Nixon played with an offensive fire his teammates always knew he was capable of, but rarely see in games.
In the first half he caught a pass near the 3-point line in the left corner and attacked the hoop without hesitation, going in strong for a finishing lay-up. In the second half, although neither play culminated in a Nixon basket, he made things happen on two occasions with confident moves to the lane with the basketball. The first ended in a foul and a trip to the free-throw line. On the other play, junior forward Jason Chappell got a put back for a bucket with 2:59 remaining.
Nixon's leadership was more pronounced Saturday. Nixon looked like he wanted the ball more, like he was hungrier. But most of all he helped step in when his team needed him, with Tucker only playing 20 minutes and sophomore center Brian Butch largely non-existent in just 18 minutes of play.
"We just think of it as – we've got to pick [Tucker] up," Nixon said. "We've got a guy struggling and it's like (head coach Bo Ryan) said, we're a team. So every guy one through 15 has to step up."
Ryan attributed Nixon's success to his tenure within the system. Nixon has played in more games at Wisconsin than any other player on the Badgers' roster. He has been there for the championships. He has observed and grown in the system.
"Well if you look on the floor I would say he's one of the guys with more experience as far as being in a program for a while and understanding a system, so that helps," Ryan said.
Speaking of both Nixon and Chappell, Ryan added, "Because of their knowledge of what we wanted to get done, when we ran into some problems with fouls with some other guys they were able to handle their positions and take advantage of their opportunities. And I think it was because of that experience."
Of all days to play this type of game in front of a Kohl Center crowd, it is hard to imagine a more appropriate opponent for Nixon to do it against. He had not scored a point during his career in three games against the rival Golden Eagles.
In his 2004 return home to Milwaukee, Nixon logged 14 minutes against Marquette but did not attempt a field goal. His only statistics in the box score were a rebound and the three fouls he committed. Wisconsin lost the game in a bleak offensive performance. This year things were different.
"Ray Nixon did what seniors do," Marquette coach Tom Crean said. "A lot of credit to Ray. He's made himself a better player every year and he showed that today."
After hurting the Eagles early on from outside, just as Nixon had done against UW-Green Bay in the Badgers' previous game, he recognized the defense on him and used it to his benefit. Crean thought Nixon did a god job of capitalizing on the opportunities Marquette gave him defensively. Nixon mentioned some specifics.
"Marquette is a very aggressive team," Nixon said. "They overplay wings and things like that, so I just took what they gave me. They were up close, so I just tried to get to the lane as much as I could."
As Tucker pointed out, once a player can develop an aggressive mindset and the confidence that he can continue to play that way, the results will be easily recognized. That was the case on Saturday, and the Badgers hope that can develop into a trend that would give them yet another weapon.
Nixon's teammates do not want him inviting anyone to his dinner table. They want his personality to be someone who invites himself to everyone else's.