After almost suffering their second straight upset defeat in as many days, freshman guard Semaj Christon was able to exert his will on Drexel late in the game, propelling Xavier to a 69-65 victory over Drexel in the first round of the consolation bracket at the Direct TV Classic in Anaheim.
For the second night in a row Christon raised his career high, this time scoring 23 points (compared to 18 on Thursday) on an impressive 10/14 shooting from the field and 3/3 from the foul line.
With both teams coming off disappointing losses in the quarterfinals yesterday, the game started off a little bit sluggish. Some of that credit can go to the Musketeer defense, who recorded four consecutive defensive stops to start the game, but overall, both teams looked sloppy early.
The Musketeers did not reach the double figure scoring mark until the 9:55 mark in the first half when Dee Davis knocked in a three-point shot to end a six minute scoreless streak by Xavier, and to pull his team within one at 11-10.
From there Drexel built up a six point lead that they held for much of the half, as the Dragons scored 12 first half points on 9 Xavier turnovers.
Late in the half, Xavier began employing a 1-3-1 matchup zone defense to slow down the Dragons, and to hide some of his players that were in foul trouble.
Semaj Christon regained the lead for Xavier on his third bucket in the paint of the first half, to make the score 26-25 in favor of the Musketeers with 1:30 to go. However, Drexel would score next, and the Dragons held the halftime lead 27-26, mainly because of the Musketeers inability to hold on the basketball.
But picking up right where he left off, Christon scored a quick layup to start the second half, and then scored again after a Jeff Robinson jumper, giving Xavier a 6-0 start to the half and an eventual 35-29 lead after a 9-2 run.
For much of the second half Xavier was the team that held a lead of about two possessions, fueled a lot by the aggressiveness and all-around play of Justin Martin, who was all over the boards as he finished with a game high 9 rebounds.
With 10:30 to play Xavier extended the lead to the biggest point that it reached all game when Travis Taylor knocked in two free throws, followed by another Robinson score, to make it 48-39.
However, Drexel refused to go away.
After consecutive turnovers by Christon and Dee Davis, Drexel scored two layups to cut the Xavier lead to just 52-50 with only 6:33 to play, setting up what turned out to be a hotly contested finish down the stretch.
Christon again took over during the next spurt, scoring twice around the basket (including an and-one), and feeding Travis Taylor, who hit two more free throws, to make the lead swell back up to 62-55 with just 3:54 left. In that spurt, Brad Redford had two wide open looks from three-point range which could have likely sealed the game, but neither one would fall in for the senior.
The teams traded baskets over the next two minutes, until a layup off of a baseline out of bounds play by Drexel's Daryl McCoy cut the Xavier lead to just 66-65 with 1:23 to play.
In true "go to guy" fashion, Christon scored the next time down the court on a tough hanging floater while falling across the lane to give Xavier a three-point lead back with 1:05 to go in regulation.
Drexel would get the ball back with 11.4 seconds to go and a sideline out of bounds play to set up a chance to tie, but the Dragons turned the ball over after an exchange on the inbounds pass.
Coming out of a timeout, Justin Martin was fouled for Xavier. After draining the first shot, with 8.6 seconds left, Martin missed the second, but Jeff Robinson came down with the rebound. The Musketeers were able to quickly move the ball around to avoid the foul, and hang on for a hard fought 69-65 victory to advance to the fifth place game.
The Musketeers, who are now 4-1, were led in scoring by the 23 points (and 6 assists) of Semaj Christon, the 13 points of Jeff Robinson, the 12 points (and 9 rebounds) of Justin Martin, and the 11 points of Dee Davis. Even though Davis struggled with turnovers, he recorded 4; he did shoot the ball well, knocking down 3 of 4 three-point shots.
Senior Brad Redford also contributed some timely points for Xavier, including a rare four-point play, as the sharp-shooter tallied 7 total points for the game.
The Musketeers shot 51% for the game, but allowed the Dragons to shoot an even better 55% from the field. The difference might have come at the line, as Xavier converted 16-18 free throws, to make all the important points count, and hold on for the win.
After an abysmal performance on the boards yesterday, Xavier out-rebounded Drexel by a count of 27-19, and also doubled their assist total from yesterday as the Musketeers finished with 14.
Drexel was led by the 19 points of Damion Lee and the 18 points of Frantz Massenat, while freshman guard Tavon Allen added on 13 points in the loss.
Xavier will conclude their visit to the Direct TV Classic in Anaheim on Sunday at 1:30 PM EST against the winner of Friday night's meeting between Drake and Rice for the fifth place trophy.