Xavier is back to playing winning basketball, and it has an old guy and a new guy to thank.
The Musketeers have followed a four-game losing streak with a 3-0 start to Atlantic 10 Conference play. On Wednesday night, they won at St. Bonaventure in the final seconds when freshman Semaj Christon hit a running floater for a 66-64 win.
The shot might be the biggest of Christon’s young career, but he’s becoming accustomed to taking big shots for a Xavier team that’s had a thin bench stretched even thinner by a wrist injury to starting point guard Dee Davis last week in the A-10 opener vs. Temple.
But the play of Christon and senior Brad Redford has kept Xavier (10-6) going — and might have saved its season.
Christon had 19 points and a career-high 10 assists vs. St. Bonaventure, and Redford’s 17 points on five 3-pointers marked the first time since his sophomore season that Redford has scored in double digits in consecutive games.
That sophomore season was a long, long time ago. Reford sat out 2010-11 while recovering from ACL surgery, and as a junior last year he was still rehabbing and never found a groove. Xavier Coach chris Mack said Redford is still one of the best shooters in the country when he’s healthy, and the Redford of late has looked like the Redford of old.
“I think he has that (confidence) back — I know so,” Mack said. “He’s spending time in the gym that a year ago he was spending with his rehab. He’s functioning more like an athlete rather than an injured patient.”
With Davis out, Christon has been almost exclusively at point guard. He’s still finding ways to score, having posted 21 last weekend vs. George Washington and 16 vs. Temple. He earned his third A-10 Rookie of the Week honor earlier this week for his efforts in those games.
“We’ve asked Semaj to make plays, we’ve asked him to score and we’ve asked him to be a high level defender,” Mack said. “Not many freshmen are asked to do all that. And like most freshmen, the best is yet to come. He’s only scratching the surface.
“Guys as gifted as Semaj is, in high school things come easy. It’s not as easy here but he’s catching on. To be able to respond that next play mentality, be ready for what’s next, that more than anything has helped him.”
Xavier hosts LaSalle on Saturday.
BIG TEN, BIG MESS? Ohio State’s win over then-unbeaten Michigan last week was an example of how tough it’s going to be to win on the road this season in the loaded Big Ten.
Then, on Tuesday night, Wisconsin went on the road at won at Indiana, which a day earlier had replaced Michigan as the nation’s No. 2 team.
It’s going to be like that, and there are going to be no breathers. Four Big Ten teams are ranked in the top 12 this week, and Thursday night No. 5 Michigan goes on the road to play No. 12 Minnesota. No. 11 Ohio State’s brutal schedule continues Saturday at No. 17 Michigan State.
Earlier this week, both Michigan coach John Beilein and Ohio State coach Thad Matta said they could see a team with six conference losses winning the Big Ten title. That sounded a little crazy, but it might not be.
HEATING UP — He came off the bench at Penn State Wednesday night after a game day altercation with teammate Brandon Dawson, but Dayton native Adriean Payne is playing his best basketball for Michigan State.
Payne scored a career-high 20 points on Wednesday, his third-straight game scoring in double figures. The 6’10 Payne is averaging 7.6 rebounds per game since Dec. 1.
MATCHING NUMBERS — Tuesday’s upset made Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan 17-3 vs. Indiana in his career. That’s the exact mark Matta has against Michigan in his time at Ohio State.
MEASURING STICK — Considering the talent returning at both Ohio University and Akron, most saw the Mid-American Conference as a two-horse race.
Saturday brings Kent State’s chance to change that perception — and score a huge victory.
The Golden Flashes (11-6, 2-1) host Akron in a rare nationally-televised game. The Zips come in red-hot, having won eight straight to improve to 12-4, 3-0.
After losing to Toledo at home in its MAC opener last week, Kent State has responded with back-to-back wins on the road. Senior point guard Randal Holt tied a career high with 27 points in an 80-68 victory at Buffalo on Wednesday night.
Ohio is also 3-0 in MAC play and is riding its seniors, specifically point guard D.J. Cooper. In the last two weeks Cooper has become the MAC’s all-time assist leader and is now 23rd in NCAA history in assists with 832 after getting nine in the Bobcats’ win over Northern Illinois on Wednesday.
NEXT LEVEL — Former West Virginia star Mike Gansey, a Cleveland native now working in the Cleveland Cavaliers front office, was in Columbus last weekend watching Ohio State-Michigan and was in Akron on Wednesday night for the Zips game vs. Ball State, getting an up-close look at Akron 7-footer Zeke Marshall.