"I really can't, Tu Holloway
said when asked if he could put a finger on why Xavier
was struggling. "If you could help us out, I'm always in the locker room. We're all looking for answers right now, but we're listening to Coach Mack and we know he can get it for us."
The Musketeers shook up the starting lineup before Wednesday's game, starting freshman Dee Davis and junior Jeff Robinson in place of senior Kenny Frease and junior Mark Lyons.
"After we lost to Dayton, we just felt like we want to put the guys out there that are really going at it in practice," Mack said regarding the change.
The lineup change didn't give the Musketeers the desired result, as they fell 73-68 in front of their home fans at the Cintas Center.
St. Louis' forwards, Rob Loe and Cody Ellis, dominated the first half, but it wasn't in the paint. Instead, the Billikens' big men found success setting high ball-screens for point guard Kwamain Mitchell and then popping to the 3-point line for open shots.
A three from Mitchell put the first points of the game on the board, and got the offense rolling. Their hot shooting continued as they made four of their first five shots, including two more triples from forward Rob Loe to give the Billikens an 11-6 lead at the first media timeout.
By the second media timeout, Saint Louis was 4-of-6 from beyond the arc and led by four, 18-14.
A pair of turnovers compounded by two more bad shots by Xavier, allowed the Billikens to go on a quick 5-0 run out of the timeout and push their lead to nine, 23-14.
The Musketeers, led by Holloway's 12 first half points, battled on the offensive end and got to the free-throw line to keep it close. With 2:42 left to play, a layup by Holloway cut the Billikens' lead to four, 30-26. However, a dunk by Loe, a layup by reserve guard Jordair Jett and five straight points from Ellis added up to a quick 9-0 run in less than two minutes for St. Louis to extend their lead to 39-26 with under a minute to play.
Xavier trailed at halftime by 12. The cause of their deficit was a lack of defense, a common trait this season. Their inability to defend St. Louis' forwards on the perimeter was the difference in the half, as the Billikens were 7-of-14 from beyond the arc, with Loe and Ellis combining for 24 points.
"Saint Louis is a good team, they made some early threes, and it kind of put us back," Xavier forward Jeff Robinson said. "We were worried about their shooters. When we owned the ball-screens, we would own them too long and not get back quick enough. They both have great, quick releases, so they were just getting too open, too quickly."
It took Xavier 3:15 to record their first points of the second half, a bucket in the lane by Lyons. That was enough to get Xavier's guard going though, as Lyons scored 11 points in a span of about four minutes to cut St. Louis' lead down to just four with 13:07 to play. A dunk by Robinson and a pair of free-throws by Holloway tied the game up 50-50 with 10:20 left.
The key to Xavier's comeback was not only the hot shooting of Lyons. The Musketeers also made an adjustment at halftime to switch all screens, which allowed them to contest the Billikens' jump shooters better.
The Xavier momentum was short lived however.
St. Louis responded by going on an 8-0 run, with six of the points coming from leading-scorer Brian Conklin inside. After seeing Xavier's adjustment to switch screens, the Billikens did a little adjusting of their own by trying to take advantage of defensive mismatches in the post.
"They put you in a predicament, because they've got ball-handlers coming off on ball-screens that can really get in the lane and score the ball," Mack said. "When you over-extend and try to keep those guys from getting to the basket, at the other end on the rope they've got a guy like Rob Loe or Cody Ellis that are 40 percent 3-point shooters or better. We decided to switch ball-screens in the second half and it gave us a lot better opportunity to take away the three, but it also put a guy like Conklin in the post, which is why they shot so many more free-throws than they did in the first."
That run proved to be pivotal for the Billikens, as Xavier would never be able to quite get over the hump.
The Billikens' lead flirted between five and eight, until around the three minute mark, when Lyons drove aggressively to the hoop and made a pair of free-throws to cut it to a one possession game at 67-64. The rest of the game became a free-throw shooting contest for St. Louis as they canned six straight freebies down the stretch to seal the win.
Conklin ended up leading them with 19 points, with 13 of them coming in the second half. Loe and Ellis managed just one point between them in the second half, after the defensive adjustment by Xavier.
The Musketeers were led by Lyons who finished with 27 points, while Holloway added 22 points and five assists.
Xavier struggled once again to get scoring production in the post. While Robinson managed 10 points, with six of them in the first half, Frease, Taylor and Walker all combined for just seven points and seven rebounds.
In addition to the post play, Coach Mack thought his team failed to execute down the stretch because of their attention to detail, or lack thereof.
"I thought we lacked a little bit of toughness... a lot of toughness at Dayton and we can't lack that in this conference against some of the teams that we play," Mack said. "I didn't think tonight was a lack of toughness. I thought it was an attention to detail in some areas. We have to get more front-court scoring. I thought our problems tonight were different than they were on Saturday."
"I thought the resolve our players had to get back into the game was good, but we weren't efficient enough at executing the details that we need to execute to win the game down the stretch against a really good basketball team in Saint Louis."
With the loss, the Musketeers fall to 4-3 in the conference. Xavier had an opportunity to take first place back, as Dayton lost to Saint Joseph's to drop to 4-2, but instead they fall to seventh in the conference. Saint Bonaventure, LaSalle, Saint Louis, Massachusetts and Dayton are all in a five way tie for first at 4-2. Temple is in sixth.
The Musketeers travel to Charlotte to take on the 49ers on Saturday. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
After dropping their second straight loss and having their 43 game Atlantic-10 home winning streak snapped at the hands of Saint Louis, there were more questions than answers for Xavier.
The Musketeers saw their 43 game home winning streak in A-10 play come to an end Wednesday night.