CINCINNATI -- Senior forward C.J. Anderson walked down the court triumphantly, three fingers raised on each hand. A spray of blue, silver and white confetti filled the air. The student section chanted "Three! Three! Three!"
Xavier has these celebrations down-pat.
Dante Jackson scored Xavier's first 11 points for a lead that held, and the Musketeers (No. 18 ESPN/USA Today, No. 17 AP) beat Dayton 76-59 on Thursday night for their third straight Atlantic 10 regular-season championship, this one at the expense of their biggest conference rival.
"It's our driving force," Xavier coach Sean Miller said. "I don't know about other programs, but it's all we talk about. Especially winning three in a row -- it's very meaningful for our program and our seniors."
It started with taunts and ended with a title.
Xavier (24-5, 12-3) joined a short list of A10 heavyweights -- no one has dominated like this since UMass and Temple in the 1990s. The Musketeers celebrated by cutting down one of the nets as students gathered around them on the court, holding up "Three-Peat" signs.
The Musketeers won at second-place Rhode Island (11-4 A10) in January, giving them the tiebreaker and the top seed in the conference tournament should they finish tied after one more game.
While the Musketeers cut down a net, the Flyers (24-6, 10-5) got ready for the hour-long drive up Interstate 75 that seems to get more miserable every time they make it. They haven't beaten Xavier in Cincinnati since 1981, losing their last 24 games on whatever court happens to be Xavier's home.
The mind-boggling streak went on despite 19 points by Marcus Johnson.
On a night when Xavier honored its two seniors, the underclassmen kept them ahead most of the game. Jackson led the way early and finished with 14 points.
The Musketeers put it away with a late surge by B.J. Raymond, a senior who forced shots while trying to make a lasting final impression at home. After opening in a 1-for-10 shooting slump, he made 3s on consecutive possessions, pushing the lead to 65-52 with 4:23 left.
"I just shot my way out of it," said Raymond, who finished with 14 points. "I missed a couple and got upset. Usually I make those shots. I'm just thankful the fans stuck with me."
It's the most-played basketball rivalry for both schools, one that had gained an edge with Xavier's recent domination. Three weeks earlier, the Flyers stood on the courtside media tables in celebration after their 13-point victory at UD Arena ended Xavier's streak of six straight wins in the series.
There was some carry-over in the rematch. Players from both teams talked trash at midcourt during the initial round of pregame warmups Thursday. Assistants stepped between them so it wouldn't escalate, and the teams went back to the locker rooms for instruction.
Raymond said there was animosity left over from what happened in Dayton.
"For the simple fact that we got into it a little bit -- that was probably not the best thing for both teams," Raymond said. "It gave a lot of energy to our side. We really came out ready to go."
Dayton coach Brian Gregory thought his team got distracted by the exchange, leading to a bad start it couldn't overcome.
"Our offensive poise was poor," Gregory said. "That was the difference in the game. We fight and we scrap and we don't back down, and we haven't all year. Sometimes your greatest strength is your greatest weakness."
The Musketeers honored Anderson and Raymond, its two seniors, before their final home game, then watched Jackson, a sophomore, get them off to a fast start. Jackson scored Xavier's first 11 points, making three 3s on the way to an 11-2 lead. The three 3s matched Xavier's total for the game in Dayton.
Just like that, a night for the seniors was taken over by the underclassmen.
Raymond, Anderson and junior Derrick Brown combined for only six points in the first half. While they struggled, the next wave of Musketeers -- the ones who will try to make it four in a row next season -- closed in on title No. 3.
Freshmen Terrell Holloway, Brad Redford and Kenny Frease, along with Jackson and sophomore Jamel McLean, helped Xavier stretch the lead to 40-27 at halftime. Jackson had 11 points and McLean added 10, including two driving dunks.
"This was a game for the young guys," Raymond said. "It gets them ready for the big games. It shows the growth they've had."
Instead of applying the pressure on defense, Dayton was feeling it the other way. The Flyers don't shoot particularly well and rely on turnovers to produce points. They lost the ball 12 times in the first half, helping Xavier take control.
Chris Wright, the Flyers' leading scorer, picked up his third foul with 16:53 to go, heading to the bench with only two points. Wright returned and made a driving dunk, starting a six-point run that cut the lead to 47-41.
The Flyers never got closer.
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