A win at Temple on Saturday night would put the Musketeers (16-8, 7-3) a half-game ahead of the Owls in the Atlantic 10.
Just as importantly, a victory would improve Xavier’s NCAA tournament resume. Temple (18-5, 7-2), which enters the game having won won seven straight, is safely in the tournament field, according to some of the latest projections. Xavier, meanwhile, is a No. 12 seed in both brackets.
The Owls earned a comeback victory over George Washington on Wednesday to extend the winning streak. Temple, which trailed 41-29 at halftime, reeled off 50 second-half points in a 79-72 triumph.
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The Owls are led by three skilled guards — seniors Ramona Moore and Juan Fernandez and junior Khalid Wyatt. Moore, Temple’s leading scorer, led the Owls with 25 points vs. George Washington, with Wyatt adding 22. Moore has exceeded 20 points in four consecutive games.
The Musketeers can put up points in a hurry with their backcourt, too, and the play of senior guard Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons will be key for Xavier on Saturday. Holloway filled up the score sheet in Xavier’s 84-66 win vs. Rhode Island on Wednesday, scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. However, he committed six turnovers, five in the first half.
With just six regular-season games left, time is running short on Xavier’s chances to improve its standing with the NCAA tournament committee. That makes Saturday’s game all the more important for the Musketeers.
–Mark Lyons came off the bench the last two games, through Wednesday. He scored 10 points against Rhode Island, connecting on 3-of-9 shots. Junior Brad Redford, who’s started in Lyons’ place of late, scored six points, hitting 2-of-5 three pointers. Lyons played 27 minutes, just as he did Saturday at Memphis, when he scored 14 points.
–Junior reserve F Travis Taylor reached double figures in points for the first time since the Christmas win vs. Southern Illinois in Honolulu, scoring 12 points in 18 minutes against Rhode Island. It’s the fifth time this season Taylor has scored 10 points or more.
BY THE NUMBERS: 121 — Tu Holloway’s assist total through 21 games this season. Holloway is one of eight Musketeers to have three 100-plus assist seasons in their careers.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “A loss is a loss no matter how many points you score.” — Freshman G Dez Wells, after scoring a career-high 19 points in the Feb. 4 loss at Memphis.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
KEY MATCHUPS: Winning in Philly has been a tough task for Xavier. The Owls were 7-1 at home through Feb. 5. Temple is led by Ramone Moore, who averages better than 18 points per game. Juan Fernandez, who shoots 41 percent from 3-point range, is a Musketeers nemesis.
TRENDING: If you’re looking for good signs in Xavier’s win vs. Rhode Island, look no further than how well the Musketeers’ offense played in the second half. Xavier scored 57 second-half points, connecting on 19-of-28 field goal attempts. Of particular note: the Musketeers were 18-of-23 on shots inside the arc after halftime. Rhode Island isn’t a particularly formidable foe, and Temple will provide a much more stern test on Saturday, but in those final 20 minutes, the Musketeers were clicking on offense — a good sign entering this key matchup Saturday. The only downside to Xavier’s second-half play? The Musketeers allowed 49 points to Rhode Island after intermission.
FUTURES MARKET: Freshman G Dezmine Wells earned national acclaim early this season for his highlight-reel dunks, and more recently for his development as a complete player. Wells scored a career-high 19 points in the Feb. 4 loss at Memphis. He was 8-for-10 from the field with five rebounds and four assists. However, he went scoreless in the last six minutes and was unable to help rally his teammates. Wells’ energy helped spark Xavier to an 8-0 start, and the team will need the freshman to deliver more performances like the one against Memphis if the Musketeers hope to make a postseason run.
–Coach Chris Mack addressed the reasons why freshman Justin Martin’s playing time has been steadily reduced. “Game time isn’t the time to prove yourself and play hard,” said Mack of Martin, who did not play the past two games through Feb. 5. Martin’s practice effort has been inconsistent at best, according to Mack, who added that he was still waiting for Martin’s “light bulb to go off.” Martin played 11 scoreless minutes against Rhode Island, picking up an assist and blocking a shot.
–Junior G Mark Lyons scored nine points in the Feb. 1 win at George Washington to eclipse the 1,000-point mark for his career. With his 14 points Feb. 4, Lyons had 1,021 points, good for 49th place on the school’s all-time list.
–Senior G Tu Holloway had seven assists Feb. 4 to become just the second player in Xavier history to have 1,000 career points and 500 career assists. Jamal Walker is the other.
–Junior G Brad Redford is finding his stroke. After missing last season following knee surgery, Redford endured a 1-for-21 stretch from 3-point range. However, he had hit at least two 3-pointers in seven of nine games through Feb. 5 and was averaging more than 14 minutes. He went 2-for-3 from 3-point range at Memphis on Feb. 4.