Xavier 67, Fordham 59
NEW YORK (AP)
There's some bad news for teams which thought Xavier's season was over following the brawl with Cincinnati last month.
The Musketeers were ranked No. 8 in the country that day. They lost five of six games since. Until Saturday, when they looked a lot like the Xavier which had won the last five Atlantic 10 regular season titles in a 67-59 victory over Fordham.
''That felt good. We needed that,'' junior guard Mark Lyons said after scoring 20 points, including two big free throws with 31 seconds to play. ''We've been struggling defensively. Today we really stepped it up and were aggressive on the ball. We just haven't been us. We've been worried about media and stuff. Now it's getting back to the old ways.''
Xavier coach Chris Mack, who was on crutches after injuring his left knee dunking in practice on Friday, echoed Lyons' thoughts on the Musketeers being back to their old selves.
''It feels good to win. Mark hit the nail on the head. This program has been through some tough times. One game doesn't make our season but it's a nice turnaround from what we've done,'' Mack said. ''The message the last few games has been that Xavier has always been known as a tough, nasty team on the defensive end, period. On the offensive end we attack and play fearless. We're not going to let anyone steal that even if it may have been self-inflicted.''
Dezmine Wells had 13 points and Andre Walker added seven points and 14 rebounds for Xavier (10-5, 1-1 Atlantic 10), which has won 10 straight over Fordham and leads the all-time series 22-3.
The Musketeers had a 16-point lead over Fordham (7-8, 0-2) with 9:38 to go and saw it get as close as five points, the last time on two free throws by Kervin Bristol with 37 seconds to play.
Lyons was fouled 6 seconds later and made both ends of a 1-and-1 to make it 66-59. After a missed 3-point attempt by Branden Frazier. Wells ended the scoring with a free throw with 16 seconds left.
Lyons was limited to 27 minutes because of foul trouble, something he said didn't bother him when it came time to make a jumper as the shot clock ran out or the sealing free throws.
''Honestly, I've been in foul trouble a lot this year,'' he said. ''It's not a good thing but I've been able to sit back and see what plays have to be made and then make plays when we need it.''
Frazier had 22 points for the Rams, who came in having won three of four including a home win over No. 22 Harvard. Bryan Smith had 12 points for Fordham and Chris Gaston added 10.
''We won't get down about this,'' second-year Fordham coach Tom Pecora said. ''We have a system here and the routine will be the same. We'll watch film of some of the good things and move forward.''
Xavier finished with a 44-31 advantage in rebounding, including 14-8 on the offensive end that led to a 12-7 difference in second-chance points.
Fordham, which came into the game next-to-last in the 14-team conference shooting 61.6 percent from the free throw line, hurt itself by making 13 of 22 from the line, including a 2-of-7 effort from freshman point guard Devan ''Fatty'' McMillan.
''Fatty going 2 of 7 is unacceptable and that will change,'' Pecora said. ''We have shooting practice every night and the numbers are up drastically but not today.''
Pecora reiterated the days of Fordham being a walkover are over.
''There's some work to be done here but we are not going to back down,'' he said. ''Those days are gone.''
Mack said, ''They are not the old Fordham. We were very well aware of what they did the last couple of weeks.''
The Musketeers used a 9-0 run to take a 34-23 lead with 3:44 left in the first half. The Rams closed the half on a 7-1 run to make it 35-30, taking advantage of six turnovers by the Musketeers in a 3-minute stretch. Xavier only had eight turnovers for the half.
Mack, who had three knee surgeries during his playing days at Xavier, will have a fourth early Sunday morning in Cincinnati.
''Sometimes coaches do dumb things to get the team, get some energy,'' he said. ''I jumped in the layup line and dunked the ball. I didn't the next time. I planted and it popped.''
Senior Tu Holloway, Xavier's leading scorer (18.1) and playmaker (5.0), didn't score for the first time since his freshman season. He went 0 for 3 from the field but handed out five assists in 31 minutes.
''I thought this was one of his best games,'' Lyons said of Holloway. ''He got everyone involved. He is one of the best if not the best point guard in the country. Tu's going to be Tu and do whatever we need because of his unselfishness.''