Defensive-minded No. 7 Xavier awaits North Dakota State

BY foxsports • November 28, 2016

CINCINNATI -- Seventh-ranked Xavier allowed an average of 83 points in its first five games.

But, in the past two contests, both against Northern Iowa -- one of the nation's best 3-point shooting teams -- the Musketeers gave up only 59 and 42 points, respectively.

Defense was a struggle for Xavier at times last season, too. But, it appears this season's team is beginning to figure things out at that end of the floor.

"I don't worry about offense, I never do," said head coach Chris Mack. "We'll figure out ways to score. We're going to have those nights when we don't. But if we defend at this level, we'll be in most every game we play."

The Musketeers finally get to face a new opponent when they host North Dakota State on Tuesday night (6:30 p.m. ET) at Cintas Center.

Among the keys to the turnaround is the maturation of point guard Edmond Sumner, a dynamic offensive player who's taken some time to develop into a quality defender. He held Northern Iowa's hot shooting guard Jeremy Morgan scoreless in the first half of Saturday's 64-42 win.

"Edmond a year ago was lost off the ball," said Mack. "He's grown up a lot."

Xavier (6-0) played Northern Iowa twice in six days -- in the championship game of the Tire Pros Invitational in Orlando (won by Xavier 67-59) and in Saturday's regularly scheduled matchup at Cintas Center.

It was the first time since 1960 that the Musketeers played the same non-conference opponent in consecutive games.

Now Xavier faces an opponent it has never met.

The Bison (5-2) are coming off a 64-50 loss to Missouri State on Sunday in which they couldn't overcome a 17-point halftime deficit. North Dakota State got 19 points from sophomore guard Khy Kabellis and Paul Miller finished with nine, but it never was closer than 10 points after halftime.

The Bison boast one of the nation's top 3-point shooters in junior guard A.J. Jacobson, although he connected just once in Sunday's loss. He is 14-of-18 from beyond the arc this season. The Bison shoot 36 percent as a team from 3-point range.

Kabellis getting on a roll bodes well for North Dakota State. He scored 13 of his points in the second half and was 3 of 7 from 3-point range Sunday.

"It was nice to see him get going," Bison coach David Richman told the Fargo Form. "We needed that from the start though, from everybody."

The Bison will need contributions from everyone if they are going to be competitive against Xavier, a top-10 Big East Conference opponent on the road.

The Musketeers are firing on all cylinders, led by J.P. Macura, who's averaging 17.7 points and 3.5 assists. Guards Trevon Bluiett and Sumner both are averaging better than 16 points per game.

Xavier must not get caught looking ahead to Saturday's clash with No. 9 Baylor in Waco, Texas.

"Good teams lock in on the challenge and the moment," said Mack.

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