Muskies takes care of business on the road
FEB 12, 2014 12:04a ET
INDIANAPOLIS -- Life away from Cintas Center hasn't been so pleasant for Xavier this season. The Musketeers were just 3-6 in games on the road or at neutral sites with four of their next five games coming outside of Cincinnati.
They got a nice start on fixing that blemish on their record Tuesday night.
Xavier methodically took apart Butler, 64-50, at Hinkle Fieldhouse to win its second straight game following a three-game losing streak.
Creighton and Villanova have put their stamp as the top two teams in the Big East but the rest of the league is still fighting amongst itself for positioning in the upcoming conference tournament. Xavier has a chance the next couple of weeks to distance itself from that pack. To do so, it will have to prove it can win away from Cintas.
The Musketeers are 17-7 now and 7-4 in the Big East. They travel to Milwaukee on Saturday to face Marquette, which is a game behind Xavier in the league standings, followed by a home game against DePaul before going to Georgetown and St. John's. Butler is reeling. The Bulldogs dropped to 12-12 on the season and have won just two of its 12 league games.
That didn't make this game any less important.
"Any win is an important win. I keep saying it but we do not look at it like a fan and say we've got a bunch of games on the road," said head coach Chris Mack. "It's the next game. It's the next game. What does Butler present? What does Marquette present? We lost our last couple of road games at Providence, at Villanova and we needed to respond tonight and play better on the road and we did that."
Xavier never trailed in the game and led by as many as 24 points, 48-24, with 12:11 left to play.
For the second straight game, Xavier put the clamps on the opponent's leading scorer. It held Providence's Bryce Cotton to just nine points in last Saturday's 59-53 win. Tuesday, Butler sophomore Kellen Dunham had just two points, making just one of the 10 field goal attempts he took. Dunham was averaging 17.4 points per game. He had scored at least eight points in Butler's previous 23 games, including putting up double figures 19 times.
Xavier beat Butler 79-68 in their first matchup on Jan. 4 in Cincinnati. Dunham had just 11 points in that game on 3-of-10 shooting. He missed his first eight shots Tuesday. Dee Davis, who broke out of his own shooting slump with three 3-pointers in the first half, harassed Dunham around the court.
The 50 points Xavier allowed was its second lowest defensive performance this season next to the 64-47 win against Cincinnati.
During its recent losing streak, Xavier lapsed defensively. In the last two games, the Musketeers have found themselves. It didn't hurt having alum David West, now of the NBA's Indiana Pacers, sitting courtside. West also spoke to the team during its shoot-around.
"Dave West had, I thought, some great words at shoot-around about starting off, taking care of the basketball and establishing the way you want to play, not taking shots that are similar to turnovers," said Mack. "I thought our kids listened to Dave. Maybe I should hire him as an assistant coach."
Semaj Christon led Xavier with 15 points. Isaiah Philmore had 10 points. They were the only two Xavier players to score in double figures but the Musketeers got points from nine players. Balanced contributions from several players were a key to their success earlier in the season. They had 18 assists on their 27 made baskets Tuesday.
Xavier played as well as it has in a long time. It has set itself up for strong run with three more weeks left in the regular season.
"This gives us momentum going into the Marquette game," said Christon. "I felt that if we win this game today, at Marquette we'll be ready to play, everybody be focused. We won't have any downs about the game."