Defense Leads Xavier Over Saint Joseph's

Defense Leads Xavier Over Saint Joseph's

Xavier allowed just 16 second half points to Saint Joseph's as they erased a two-point halftime deficit, and rolled to a 68-55 win.

Powered by a pair of big second half runs, Xavier put four players in double figures as they knocked off Saint Joseph's 68-55 Wednesday night at the Cintas Center.

After trailing 39-37 at halftime, Xavier picked up their defensive intensity and only allowed 16 second half points for the Hawks. Saint Joesph's shot just 37.5 percent from the field, their lowest mark of the season.

"We obviously played some incredible defense in the second half to hold a team to 16 points," Mack said. "Kanacevic and Galloway looked like two pros in the first half, to hold them to 16 points in the second half with our defensive effort, that's the difference in the game tonight."

Senior center Kenny Frease scored five of the first seven Xavier points with a baby hook on their first possession and an and-one a few plays later by going into Saint Joseph's shot-blocker C.J. Aiken's body.

Xavier continued the offensive roll they've been on as of late, as they made their first two threes, a Mark Lyons triple from straightaway and an open look for Dez Wells from the corner. An exciting behind the back and-one finish by Wells gave Xavier a 15-8 lead at the first media timeout.

The Musketeers continued their hot shooting as Lyons would make two more threes. Back-to-back layups by Frease and Tu Holloway pushed Xavier's lead to 28-19.

However, a Langston Galloway 3-pointer cut the margin to just six, 28-22, at the second media timeout.

Coming out of the timeout, Galloway cut it to a two point game when he was fouled on a made three by Lyons. An and-one a few possessions later by Halil Kanacevic made it a one point game 30-29.

The Hawks took their first lead on a jumper by Ronald Roberts with 4:44 left to play in the half to make it 33-32.

The lead would bounce back and forth to either team another time, before Daryus Quarles made his way into the scorebook for Saint Joseph's to give him his first two points, and the Hawks' a halftime lead.

Frease said the message from Coach Mack at halftime was simple.

"Just go out and defend like we know we can. That's a lot more points than we've given up in the last few games. They were hitting some tough shots, but there were a couple of breakdowns on defense… just different things that we were not 100 percent clicking on, and in the second half we corrected a lot of that. I think that was probably the best defensive half we've had all year.

Out of intermission, Saint Joseph's scored four straight points on a layup by Kanacevic and a dunk by Aiken to take their lead 43-37 just a minute into the half. The momentum quickly shifted in Xavier's favor though.

Andre Walker got the scoring started with a put-back off a Lyons' miss. Then after a Walker block, Lyons secured the loose ball and threw ahead to Holloway. Xavier's senior point guard made a savvy tip-pass backwards to Wells who finished with a layup. A turnover by Quarles then led to an easy layup for Lyons. Quarles followed that up with an encore performance, as he missed a quick jumper, which led to another run out for Xavier, ending in another Holloway to Wells hook-up for two.

The quick 8-0 run gave Xavier its lead back, and forced Phil Martelli to call a timeout.

"They scored the first four points of the half really quickly, and then we were able to go on a run on our own and the crowd got back into it," Frease said. "That was really when everything took off. I was just telling them in the locker room that it felt like we were down two and then up 15 within a few minutes. We played really well today."

Xavier extended the run after a Ronald Roberts' missed jumper, when Dez Wells drove into the lane and finished with a floater. Lyons added a pair of free-throws and Holloway scored on a drive to the rim.

A dunk by Roberts on a defensive breakdown by Xavier ended Saint Joseph's drought at the 13:55 mark, and ended Xavier's run at 14-0.

The Musketeers pushed their lead to double-digits just a few possessions later though, on a Lyons' jumper.

Another 11-0 run for the Musketeers spanning from 7:47, when Holloway made a pair of free-throws coming out of the media timeout, to the 4:43 mark, when Aiken ended the second large Saint Joseph's drought of the second half with a dunk, pushed Xavier's lead to its peak at 17. Frease, scored five straight points during the stretch, and Robinson played add-on with four straight of his own.

The Musketeers' front-court play was a big reason for their success, and it's a trend that has continued over the last few wins. Robinson, in particular, has had three-straight games where he's scored 12 or more points, after playing just three minutes against Gonzaga and six minutes against Fordham.

"Kenny Frease and Jeff Robinson did great things around the basket. They played like our front-court needs to play," Mack said. "We needed front court help. Kenny hasn't played great during stretches at a time this year. He played really well tonight. Andre's not really a back to the basket player. He's not really a big-time finisher around the basket, nor do we bring him in to be. Kenny, Travis, Jeff, those guys have to be able to produce in the low post. Points in the paint, we hurt them tonight. We had the advantage there and it was because of Jeff and Kenny, and our guards' ability to make guys better. Jeff's playing great, and we need him to continue to do that."

The defensive effort in the second half kept their 17-point lead safe, as neither team would score for the final 4:43, until Griffin McKenzie fouled Roberts with 21 seconds left to put the final two points of the game on the board.

Xavier was led by Lyons, who had a game-high 17 points. Wells piched in with 12 points and six boards.

A trend over the last four wins for Xavier, has been Holloway's unselfishness. He hasn't had double-digit shot attempts since the LaSalle loss, but he has set his season-high for assists twice in the last three games with 11 against Duquesne and 12 against Saint Joseph's Wednesday night.

After the game, Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli offered his thoughts on changes that he's seen in Holloway recently.

"I don't know the numbers, but he was different against Gonzaga than he was against LaSalle, Fordham… He's still the dominant player, if you have 12 assists in a game, that's a dominant player. I guess when someone stands up and kind of challenges them, step up into their chest so to speak, I think you'll see him return to a guy that can (score). It's hard to describe, but he makes a simple pass and changes what is really like a 4-on-4 fastbreak into a 2-on-1 fastbreak, just by a simple pass. I think his game's gotten simpler from last year to this year."

Mack agreed about Holloway playing simpler.

"I think he's just making the easier play or the easier decision. To me, the sign of a really good point guard, is knowing when to shoot and when to pass. It sounds very simple, but you have all the things you need to run and you're trying to be an extension on the coach on the floor. He's making the game simple. Sometimes, this is the part where I've watched film with him, he tries to make it too simple. There's a fine line between playing casual, like 'I'm better than everybody,' and being able to be efficient and play really simple. I think he's really done that since we started A-10 play."

With the win, Xavier extends their win streak to four, and their Atlantic-10 home winning streak to 43.

Xavier hits the road Saturday to take on rival Dayton. Tipoff is scheduled for noon.

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