Xavier rallies for 82-69 win over IUPUI in Steele’s debut
CINCINNATI (AP) — The most important decision in Travis Steele’s debut was also his easiest: Run some plays to get Ryan Welage the ball.
Welage scored 21 of his 24 points in the second half on Tuesday night as Xavier blew an 18-point lead before rallying for an 82-69 victory over IUPUI in Steele’s debut as the Musketeers coach.
Welage had 12 points during a 15-6 spurt after IUPUI (0-1) took its only lead early in the second half. Xavier (1-0) then pulled away with its depleted lineup.
“It’s a law of averages for Ryan,” Steele said. “He’s a tremendous shooter. I told him at halftime to just keep shooting the ball. We’ve seen them go in over and over and over in practice.”
The graduate student from San Jose State missed four of his five shots in the opening half. He made one early after the break and was 5 of 7 from beyond the arc the rest of the way with a little help from his coach.
“My teammates got me great looks,” Welage said. “Once I hit one or two, they started looking for me, and coach drew up a play or two that got me good looks.”
Slimmed-down forward Tyrique Jones added 17 points and six rebounds for Xavier (1-0).
The Musketeers got their first No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament last season, got upset in the second round, and lost five of their top seven scorers , including Trevon Bluiett. Chris Mack went to Louisville, and Steele — his top assistant — was hired as Xavier’s 18th coach.
Junior point guard Quentin Goodin didn’t dress for the game. He’s still recovering from a right shoulder injured in practice a few weeks ago. Goodin is Xavier’s top returning scorer and had started 52 consecutive games, including all 35 last season.
Jones lost more than 20 pounds in the offseason to get quicker. The 6-foot-9 forward had two steals and dunks and scored 10 points as Xavier pulled out to a 35-17 lead.
Camron Justice scored nine of the Jaguars’ first 17 points but was ejected for tripping Zach Hankins as he ran up the court with 6:29 left in the first half.
The Jaguars pulled ahead 42-40 on Jaylen Minnett’s 3-pointer early in the second half. Minnett finished with 21 points.
IUPUI: The Jaguars were picked to finish sixth in the Horizon League with only three starters returning: Evan Hall, D.J. McCall and Nick Rogers. IUPUI has three transfer students including Justice, who spent two years at Vanderbilt.
Xavier: With so many new players in the lineup and Goodin on the bench, the Musketeers were out of sync on offense until Welage started hitting from beyond the arc.
The Musketeers have won 29 consecutive season openers, including all 18 at the Cintas Center. Overall, they’ve won 40 straight against nonconference opponents. They’re 246-36 all-time at the arena.
IUPUI went 4 of 21 from the field with eight turnovers while falling behind by 18 points at the outset. IUPUI finished with 15 turnovers that led to 19 of Xavier’s points.
“We have to do a better job on our turnovers,” coach Jason Gardner said. “We had some silly turnovers.”
Xavier forward Naji Marshall missed the last four days of practice with illness. He finished with 13 points, a team-high 36 minutes and a career-high seven assists.
IN THE ZONE
With the lineup depleted and fouls adding up, Xavier went to a 2-3 zone late in the first half, when IUPUI was digging out of the 18-point deficit.
“We haven’t practiced it a ton,” Steele said. “I thought it was effective though.”
OUT OF HERE
IUPUI’s Brandon Kenyon fouled out with 7:40 to go after scoring 7 points. Xavier’s Jones and Paul Scruggs fouled out in the final 2 minutes.
IUPUI: Hosts Eastern Illinois on Saturday.
Xavier: Hosts Evansville on Saturday.