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Return of freshman Holloway puts Xavier's offense back on track

CINCINNATI -- Back from a stress fracture in his left foot, freshman point guard Terrell Holloway put the sizzle back into Xavier's offense.

Holloway made the most spectacular plays during a late first-half run Wednesday night, and the Musketeers (No. 9 ESPN/USA Today, No. 10 AP) stayed unbeaten with a 78-56 victory over Ohio that left them feeling more complete heading into the city's biggest rivalry game.

"We're just a different team when you add Terrell Holloway to the group we have ..." coach Sean Miller said. "I thought he looked really good considering where he came from."

Xavier (8-0) has matched the second-best start in its history -- the 1992-93 team opened the same way. The school record is a 10-0 start by the 1996-97 team.

Even though the record remained perfect, the Musketeers have had problems on offense in their last two games without Holloway, their quickest ball handler, best free-throw shooter and flashiest playmaker. He was back in form during the last five minutes of the first half, leading an 18-2 run that left Ohio (4-4) down and out.

"I was just playing hard," Holloway said. "I was getting warmed up. Coach Miller was taking me in and out. At that time, I was just getting into a little groove."

C.J. Anderson scored a career-high 22 points, and Derrick Brown added 18 in an offense that was balanced with its point guard back. Holloway's best moments came during the decisive run.

He passed to Brown for a three-point play, hit a floating jumper in the key, and had a steal and a pass to Brown for a fastbreak dunk in a run and put Xavier up 48-25 at halftime. Holloway had those two points, three assists and three rebounds in 15 minutes. The plan is to increase his minutes each game.

"He's not in any further jeopardy of reinjuring it," Miller said. "But when someone's been off for two weeks -- keep in mind it's someone who's been in a walking boot -- it's not fair to throw them out there for 30 minutes. The thing I was most pleased with is he hasn't lost his confidence after not playing for two weeks."

Brown was 7-for-7 from the field, making all three of his shots from behind the arc, one week after Miller wondered aloud about his inconsistent play as he recovers from a sprained ankle.

"Today was the first time I felt like my old self," said Brown, who played 26 minutes. "My ankle, that's in the past."

Miller was so upset with his team's lackadaisical defense in the second half of an 81-74 win over Auburn a week earlier that he threatened lineup changes. The lineup was the same on Wednesday, and with Holloway back, so was the swagger.

The next one will be a tough one. To stay perfect, the Musketeers will have to beat crosstown rival Cincinnati on the Bearcats' home court Saturday. The way the rivalry has played out, the team with the better record or higher ranking is the one in for a rough time.

Cincinnati (6-1) will have had a full week off when its plays Xavier, which has won six of the last nine games between the schools separated by only 3 1/2 miles.

"Whatever the sport, when it's a rivalry, you should be ready," Anderson said. "We're ready and we're just looking forward to the game."

First, the Musketeers had to try to find their form against an Ohio team playing for the fourth time in eight days. Xavier wore down the Bobcats with its crushing run at the end of the first half and led by 28 points when both teams substituted freely for the closing minutes.

Jerome Tillman led Ohio with 16 points.

"They're a terrific basketball team," Ohio coach John Groce said. "In the first half, it was floating around 10 or 12 points before they went on that run. Xavier puts you in a lot of situations with their size and strength."

With five stalwarts left from its Elite Eight team and eight newcomers, Xavier won its first six games with defense, rebounding and grit. The victory over Auburn -- Xavier got up by 24 in the second half, then went soft -- raised concerns about their mind-set.

In the first half against Ohio, the Musketeers looked their old selves. They shot 69 percent from the field, their best half in more than four years. The last time Xavier shot so well was the second half of an 87-67 win over Saint Joseph's in the Atlantic 10 tournament in Dayton on March 11, 2004.

The game amounted to a homecoming for Groce, Ohio's first-year coach who was an assistant with Miller on Thad Matta's staff at Xavier in 2001. The Bobcats fell to 2-21 against top 10 teams, the wins coming over No. 4 Kentucky in 1964 and No. 4 Ohio State in 1971.