Xavier-S. Illinois Preview

While Xavier entered last weekend as one of the top teams in the

country, it certainly hasn’t played like one since then.

On the verge of their longest losing streak in 12 seasons, the

No. 14 Musketeers face Southern Illinois in the seventh-place game

of the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu on Sunday.

Xavier (8-3) opened with eight consecutive wins and was ranked

eighth, but could be at risk of falling out of the Top 25

altogether with another upset loss to close this tournament.

The Musketeers have dropped three straight following a

bench-clearing brawl at the end of a 76-53 win over Cincinnati on

Dec. 10. Star guards Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons were given one and

two-game suspensions, respectively, while promising freshman Dez

Wells and reserve guard Landen Amos were handed four-game bans.

That leaves the Musketeers, who haven’t lost four in a row since

Jan. 11-25, 2000, at less than full strength until Dec. 31 against

Gonzaga.

After an embarrassing 64-42 loss to Oral Roberts last Sunday and

a 68-58 defeat to Long Beach State in the opening round of this

tournament Thursday, Xavier suffered a devastating 84-82 overtime

loss to Hawaii on Friday.

Holloway scored 26 and Lyons – in his first game back – had 18

for Xavier, which blew a 15-point lead in the second half and lost

on a basket with 0.8 seconds left in overtime.

“We struggled defensively in the second half,” coach Chris Mack

said. “We’re struggling offensively. We got some open looks we

didn’t knock down. This was as disappointing a game for as long as

I’ve been around.”

Holloway is the Atlantic 10’s second-leading scorer at 18.4

points per game and Lyons is fourth at 17.4, but Wells certainly

appears to be missed. He totaled 27 points in the two games before

his suspension, and the Musketeers averaged 74.5 points. They’ve

averaged 59.0 in regulation during the three-game skid.

Though things certainly aren’t looking up for Xavier, a matchup

with Southern Illinois (3-7) could be just what it needs to get

back on track. The Salukis are averaging a Missouri Valley-worst

60.8 points on 37.3 percent shooting, and they’ve dropped five

straight versus ranked opponents by 17.0 points per game.

One day after losing 83-58 to Kansas State for its most lopsided

defeat of the season, Southern Illinois fell 83-75 in overtime to

Clemson on Friday for its fourth loss in five games away from home.

The Salukis led by eight with under four minutes remaining and held

a three-point advantage with six seconds to go in regulation.

“If we just show a little more maturity and patience from that

four-minute mark down, then the game’s over,” coach Chris Lowery

told the school’s official website. “We have to grind them out,

make them pay at the end of the shot clock.”

Mamadou Seck scored a team-best 18 points while Justin Bocot had

15 in his second game back following a suspension for breaking team

rules.

“We’re slowly getting better (inside) and we have to keep

throwing it in there, because they’re going to make plays,” Lowery

said.

“Now that we have everybody back, it’s time to build the team

around that.”

The Salukis took the only previous meeting in this series, 75-65

on Dec. 22, 1972.