That gust of wind you felt Sunday afternoon? That was Xavier, breathing a massive sigh of relief.
The Musketeers ended a three-game skid with an 87-77 win against Southern Illinois. It wasn’t an impressive or even a good outing – the Salukis’ three wins came against three of D-I’s worst teams – but with Gonzaga looming and A-10 play beginning after that, Xavier couldn’t afford another loss.
“We really needed this one,” junior guard Mark Lyons said. “We got the W. That’s what matters.”
That’s an understatement. A four-game losing streak with two against two D-I stragglers might have been enough to set Xavier back another few weeks. Maybe more.
Of course, this all started last week when Lyons, senior Tu Holloway, freshman Dezmine Wells all sat out against Oral Roberts because of suspensions for their roles in the ugly brawl with Cincinnati on Dec. 10. Those are Xavier’s three leading scorers, while Holloway and Lyons are the starting backcourt and its two most important players.
Holloway returned Thursday vs. Long Beach State and Lyons for Hawaii the next day, but neither could stem the Musketeers’ woes. Long Beach would’ve been tough with a full roster. Losing to Hawaii and Southern Illinois back-to-back? That’s a new low for a hoops-proud program like Xavier.
Wells returns for Saturday’s game against Gonzaga, which should help both ends of the ball (he’s more than ready, too). Coach Chris Mack praised his offense on Sunday (1.2 points per trip on about 72 possessions), but that was boosted by an ungodly amount of free throws (X hit 36 of 38 freebies), but the defense is still below what it was. Allowing the Salukis to 1.06 points per possession (they’re usually right around .91) is hardly the stuff of a Top 25 team.
But we’ll see what happens next. Seems Xavier’s thinking the same thing.
“We’re going to have our full team back,” senior Andre Walker told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “I think we’ll feel like we did when we were winning (the first eight) games.”
That would be no small feat. But I’m doubtful it’ll be that easy.
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