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UTC forward Trayvond Massenburg knocks away a rebound from ULM center Sam Alabakis during the Mocs' basketball game against Louisiana-Monroe at Finley Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Nat Dixon and Trayvond Massenburg spent last season in the junior college ranks.

They've had different paths in trying to work their way into the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball rotation, but Wednesday each was ready when their numbers were called earlier than normal.

Casey Jones injured an ankle three minutes into the Mocs' 73-57 win over Jacksonville State. Dixon played 26 minutes, his most against an NCAA Division I opponent, and had a season-high nine points on 2-for-3 shooting from 3-point range.

He continued to provide the energy that's become his trademark.

"I know my job isn't to score points all the time, but I had to try to get it any way (I could)," Dixon said. "Casey going down hurts our team — it hurts us because we love him so much — and hopefully he'll be all right. When one person goes down, the next person is always ready to step up."

Dixon's 3-point accuracy jumped from 14 percent for the season to 30 percent after the win over the Gamecocks.

"I feel more confident after playing in a couple of games," he said. "I've got my feet wet and I feel ready to play. I've been in the gym shooting a lot; when you don't like your shooting percentage, you keep practicing, keep working on your shot and shoot when you're open."

Massenburg also had his most extensive action of the season, with four rebounds and a block in 12 minutes.

"Nat Dixon was terrific tonight," UTC coach Matt McCall said Wednesday. "From an energy standpoint and talking on defense, getting into the game. I thought he was outstanding and gave us a boost when he started the second half.

"Trayvond comes to practice every single day with an unbelievable amount of energy and effort. His number was called tonight and he was completely prepared for the opportunity because of his approach in practice. The growth and development he has had, especially as a teammate, is night and day. I couldn't be more proud of him."

Massenburg came to UTC via car, making a two-day, 14-hour drive from Philadelphia to Chattanooga. With Jones, senior Justin Tuoyo and sophomore Makinde London in the rotation, the 6-foot-7 junior has spent much of the early season just working on trying to make the acclimation from junior college to Division I basketball while learning behind a pair of seniors and the 6-foot-11 London.

"Mass has had the biggest growth on the team since he got here, off and on the court," senior Tre' McLean said. "Just playing hard, adapting to the culture. I told him when he first got here that it's tough playing in a culture like this when one person is not shooting 15-20 times a night, where we won't have a 20-point scorer. I told him coming in that it's tough when you've got to share the limelight, or you might not be featured as much as the next guy.

"I think he took that rough, but I think he's made strides."

Massenburg focuses on effort. He's not out for points, rebounds, stats in general.

Well, not entirely.

"I just focused today on pick-and-roll coverage, grabbing every rebound," he said Wednesday. "This really hasn't been an adjustment for me. I just play hard, and here (in D-I basketball) if you play hard you'll be great.

"If you play hard, play your role and do whatever Coach asks you do to, everything is going to be fine. I'm just going to continue to do what I've been doing and continue to get better."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.

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