The Musketeers won their fourth straight Atlantic 10 game at home over St. Joe's on Wednesday night 68-55 thanks to a complete offensive game, and a great second half defensively. Facing a 39-37 halftime deficit Coach Mack got the boys fired up on the defensive end in the final period as they outscored the Hawks 31-16 to complete their three game conference home stretch without any blemishes.
With leading scorer Carl Jones out with an ankle injury the young Hawks team looked overmatched early in the game as Xavier raced out to a 16-8 lead behind a 12-2 run sparked by the highlight and-one finish of Dez Wells; but, a 13-5 SJU run late in the half gave St. Joe's their first lead at 33-32 which they held on to until halftime.
Visibly upset with the Musketeers defensive performance, as Xavier allowed St. Joe's to shoot 47% from the field in the first period, Coach Mack rallied the troops and they were able to force the Hawks into 19 total turnovers; resulting in easy baskets in transition for Xavier. The Musketeers, who tallied 18 assists with only 8 turnovers, got great production at the point guard position from veteran Tu Holloway who dished out 12 assists in the win.
With four scorers in double-digits, led by the 17 points of Mark Lyons (who hit his first three three-point attempts) the home team simply had too many scoring options for the inexperienced visitors to contain.
Senior post Kenny Frease was the top scorer early in both halves, as he was key to Xavier earning 44 points in the paint, finishing with 13 points and 7 rebounds while Dez Wells and Jeff Robinson both provided sparks with 12 points each. Holloway also chipped in with 6 points and Andre Walker and Travis Taylor each added 4 in the win. The Musketeers shot an impressive 57% in the second period, and 49% for the game.
The game opened up for Xavier in the first half as, after giving up the first four points very quickly, they triggered a 18-2 run thanks to some great defensive ball pressure for a 55-45 lead eight minutes into the half. The run cost SJU two of their timeouts, and Coach Martelli much frustration, as Mark Lyons and Tu Holloway harassed Hawks' ball-handlers in a stretch were they really missed leading scorer and primary handler Carl Jones.
The game played mostly even from there until a face-up jumper from Jeff Robinson, followed by a Robinson dunk off a feed from Kenny Frease, opened up a 68-51 Xavier lead to give the Hawks their largest deficit of the night with 6:02 remaining.
From there the Musketeers went into game control mode, with Coach Mack eventually clearing the bench with a little over 1:30. In the second half Mack seemed very pleased with the defensive effort of his starters as they only yielded 16 SJU second half points.
St. Joe's also had four players tally double figure scoring numbers led by the production of forward Halil Kanacevic, a load down low with a great skill set, who scored 13 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, and dished out 5 assists. CJ Aiken, one of the nation's top shot-blockers scored 10 points with 3 blocks; Langston Galloway knocked down three long bombs on his way to 14 points, and Ronald Roberts came off the bench to chip in 14 as well.
The one negative in the game comes in the rebounding department as the Hawks dominated the glass 38-28. Coach Mack will surely want to fix that problem going forward as the big Hawks frontline had their way with Xavier in the second half, with second chance points being SJU's only form of offense in that period.
Xavier (13-5 overall 4-1 conference) is back in action again on Saturday afternoon in the first of two meetings with conference rival Dayton on the road.