Xavier head coach Chris Mack hasn’t had many answers to address his team’s struggles this season. But coming off a disheartening loss at Temple, he arrived at this conclusion: XU might be better if it played faster.
The Musketeers often appear disjointed this season in the half-court offense but much crisper when converting steals or defensive rebounds into transition opportunities.
On Saturday night against rival Dayton, the Musketeers turned the tables on the Flyers, who had run them out of UD Arena less than a month before. While foul trouble and 26 free throw attempts by Dayton helped slow the torrid pace, Xavier appeared the more athletic team in an 86-83 overtime win.
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“I think if anybody’s watched us here recently, we were a much faster team from defense to offense tonight, even on made shots,” Mack told the Cincinnati Enquirer following the win over Dayton.
After their 43-game Atlantic 10 Conference home winning streak ended this season, the Musketeers didn’t want to also be responsible for ending their most cherished streak: 27 consecutive wins over Dayton in Cincinnati, dating to 1981.
“We’re just trying to get back to the way we can play,” senior forward Andre Walker said.
The victory sets up yet another critical week for Xavier, which remained tied for third in the A-10 standings with UMass and firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Mack’s theory of speed will be put to the test when the Musketeers play the Minutemen in Amherst. UMass, the highest scoring team in the A-10, averages more than 76 points per game.
“Every game is an important game for us,” said freshman guard Dezmine Wells. “We have a chip on our shoulder.”
Holloway approaching two milestones
–With his 32 points Saturday, senior G Tu Holloway moved into 11th place on XU’s all-time scoring list with 1,652 points, moving past Bob Quick (1965-68). Holloway entered the week needing 38 points to reach 10th all-time.
–Holloway entered this week with 623 free throws made in his career. Xavier All-American and NBA veteran David West holds the school record with 662.
–With Saturday night’s overtime win over Dayton, Xavier has beaten the Flyers 27 consecutive times in Cincinnati. The last time UD defeated Xavier in Cincinnati was 1981.
BY THE NUMBERS: 18 — Times Tu Holloway has scored in double figures from the free throw line in his career. Holloway went 14 of 15 from the free throw line in Saturday’s win over Dayton.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “He is truly energized right now. He had a great bounce to him this week. I look for him to have a big finish this year” — Coach Chris Mack on Tu Holloway, who scored 32 points in Saturday’s win over Dayton.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK’S GAMES:
–at UMass, Feb. 21
KEY MATCHUPS: The Musketeers have won six on a row against UMass and lead the all-time series 14-8. But the Minutemen, who lead the Atlantic 10 Conference in scoring with 76.5 points per game, pose a big challenge on the road. Chaz Williams and Raphiael Putney are the only two UMass players to average double figures, but they have seven players who shoot better than 30 percent from 3-point range.
–vs. Richmond, Feb. 25
KEY MATCHUPS: The Spiders have balanced scoring with four players averaging in double figures, led by Darien Brothers. But Richmond has also been outrebounded by opponents this season and averages just around 70 points per game. Xavier needs to keep an eye on Kendall Anthony, who shoots better than 43 percent from 3-point range.
FUTURES MARKET: Junior F Travis Taylor showed promise practicing with the team last season after transferring from Monmouth. He still shows flashes in practice, but coach Chris Mack has been perplexed by Taylor’s results on the floor. Taylor often misses shots he typically makes in practice and has a tendency to get into foul trouble. That didn’t stop Mack from giving Taylor his third start of the season on Saturday, and XU’s head coach continues to praise Taylor’s effort to improve.
–Senior G Tu Holloway handled the ball less in Saturday night’s win over Dayton, and that was by design, coach Chris Mack said. Holloway responded with 32 points including 2-of-3 from 3-point range and 14-of-15 from the free throw line. Holloway’s career high is 31 points.
–Junior F Travis Taylor made his third start of the season on Saturday against Dayton and scored five points. Taylor had four rebounds and a blocked shot.
–Junior G Mark Lyons returned to the starting lineup on Saturday for the first time in three games and responded with 20 points while providing high energy on defense. Lyons also had two steals while moving into 44th place on XU’s all-time scoring list.