Sunday, February 28, 2010
Xavier making another late push into March
By Brian Bennett
CINCINNATI -- As Sunday's game against Richmond stayed tight throughout the second half and into two extra periods, Xavier senior Jason Love reminded his teammates during timeouts that they'd been in this situation before.
Head coach Chris Mack just hoped no one remembered that they had also lost those kinds of games.
Point guard Terrell Holloway led all scorers with 24 points Sunday.
Xavier suffered a couple of heartbreakers earlier this season, losing at Butler by one point and falling to Wake Forest in another double-overtime affair. But, hey, it's almost March, and that can only mean one thing: It's time for the Musketeers to hit their stride.
The program has won or shared the last three Atlantic 10 regular-season titles, while advancing to the NCAA tournament Sweet 16 last year and the Elite Eight the year before. A gritty 78-76 win over No. 24 Richmond shows that Xavier is revving up at the right time again.
"In my years here, we always seem to get better toward the end," said Love, who tied a school record by playing in his 103rd victory Sunday. "It's just that time. It's winning time."
And extra time must mean it's Terrell time. Sophomore point guard Terrell Holloway scored a career-best 26 points earlier this season in a double-OT win over Cincinnati. On Sunday, he had 11 of his game-high 24 points after regulation ended, including the first seven points of the second bonus period.
"There's a saying in New York that when the lights are on, it's time to perform," said Holloway, who's from Hempstead, N.Y. "I think that's what happened."
Holloway couldn't even be stopped by a poke in the left eye, which turned him into a Cyclops for a pair of important free throws in the second overtime. He sank both.
Xavier needed Holloway, because leading scorer Jordan Crawford wore down while defending Richmond's array of back cuts and dribble handoffs. Crawford finished with 19 points, but none of them came in the final 24:29. Instead, Holloway's drives to the bucket against Richmond's switching defense became the best offensive option.
"It's sort of like that 'what' rule," Mack said. "'What, you're guarding me? You're 6-9, so I'll go around you.'"
Speedy freshman Mark Lyons combines with Holloway and Crawford to form a dangerous backcourt, but the Musketeers are strong up front as well. They outrebounded Richmond 47-35, with Love and forward Jamel McLean contributing 22 rebounds between them.
That versatility makes this team a threat once again in March. Xavier notched two solid road wins over Charlotte and Saint Louis before Sunday's game, and now it's tied with Temple for the conference lead with 12-2 league record. Temple owns the tiebreaker by virtue of a win at home in the teams' only meeting, but the Owls still must navigate a trip to Saint Louis this week. Xavier should have no problem in its final two contests against Fordham and St. Bonaventure.
So it looks like another co-championship, at worst, for the Musketeers. Boasting an RPI of 18 entering the day, they could be set up for a good NCAA tournament seed. And, perhaps, another run deep into March.
"We're doing a great job of guarding the ball now, and offensively we're getting a lot of production from everybody," Crawford said. "I think we're hitting our peak a little bit."