NCAA BK

Xavier off to strong start in Big East

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CINCINNATI (AP)

The alarm went off in Isaiah Philmore's dorm at 1 a.m. on Wednesday, rousing him for what would be a very cold, wet and uncomfortable night.

Philmore was one of a half-dozen Xavier players who wound up looking for another place to sleep after a pipe burst in their dorm, part of the freeze-thaw cycle from the Midwest cold. None of them got much sleep.

After spending four hours salvaging his belongings, the 6-foot-8 forward went to the locker room and got a few hours of sleep with his legs hanging over the too-small couch.

''Half the team had a long, tough night, and we have to figure out what's going on with that,'' guard Myles Davis said.

Philmore sloshed through several inches of water to save his belongings, some of which got wet. He was tired and had a sore back after his nap on the couch.

''I'm just happy that game day isn't today,'' Philmore said. ''That would have been a rough one.''

The broken pipe has been the toughest challenge lately for the Musketeers (12-3, 2-0), who have won seven in a row and are adapting nicely to their move into the Big East. They've beaten St. John's and Butler - another Big East newcomer - to open the season, leaving them tied with No. 8 Villanova and Georgetown for second.

Creighton (13-2, 3-0) leads the reconfigured, 10-team league.

The Musketeers were the best team in the Atlantic 10 in the last decade and made a big deal out of their move to the new league. They struggled in the first half of their Big East opener against St. John's before relaxing and pulling away.

''I think we were kind of timid, still in awe that we were in the Big East,'' Philmore said. ''But we figured it out later in that game. From that game forward, we approach every game like we did before the Big East. There's no reason for us to treat it any differently.''

They're developing into a team with a lot of balance on offense to go with their usual tough defense. Xavier hosts Marquette (9-6, 1-1) on Thursday night in a matchup of the league's top two defensive and rebounding teams.

Five players are averaging more than eight points a game, led by sophomore guard Semaj Christon at 14.7 points. Ten players are averaging more than 10 minutes a game. Xavier has an assist on 58 percent of its baskets, a sign of the Musketeers' unselfishness.

During the 70-60 win over St. John's, no Xavier player took more than nine shots.

''We feel like we're a more balanced team than we've been the last few seasons,'' coach Chris Mack said. ''We have players that are willing to make the extra pass. I think we have good mentality right now on offense.

''I don't look at our team and say this is a glaring weakness on the offensive end. If we can continue to get better and see those same results, we're going to be a tough team to deal with.''

The Musketeers' final season in the A-10 was a disappointment. They had a thin roster and little experience - only one returning starter - and it showed. They lost confidence and never got it back.

The seven-game winning streak includes victories over Cincinnati and Alabama and Wake Forest that have restored the confidence.

''That's what we were missing last year, some swagger,'' Philmore said. ''We've finally gotten that back this year, which is why we're getting more wins.''

One of the biggest challenges is just ahead. After the home game against Marquette, the Musketeers play six of their next nine on the road, including games at Creighton, Villanova and Butler.

''It's easy to say you have swagger when you've won a few games in a row,'' Mack said. ''I'm more worried about consistency, more worried about toughness and being able to put results in the rearview mirror, win or lose.''

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Follow Joe Kay on Twitter: http://twitter.com/apjoekay

Tagged: Xavier, Isaiah Philmore

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