Wednesday, March 03, 1999

More McAfee makes Xavier much better


With Lumpkin struggling, he fills void

BY MICHAEL PERRY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Maurice McAfee doesn't look over his shoulder any more.

        The sophomore backup point guard is playing as well as he has in his Xavier career. He's confident. More importantly, coach Skip Prosser has confidence in him.

        One game he provides scoring off the bench. The next game maybe a slew of assists, or tight defense on the opponent's point guard.

        Over the past two weeks, McAfee has outplayed senior starter Gary Lumpkin, and he looks to be a key player as the Musketeers enter postseason play Thursday in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament.

        McAfee has scored in double figures three of the past five games and averaged 9.4 points, 3.0 assists and shot 42.1 percent from three-point range. Over the same stretch, Lumpkin has averaged 5.4 points, 3.8 assists and shot 25 percent from three-point range.

        “I think he's a big reason why we have 20 wins,” Prosser said of McAfee. “I have total confidence in him. I feel like when he's in the game, often times that gives us the best chance to win.”

        Because of how McAfee has been playing, Prosser is quicker to relieve Lumpkin when he is struggling or go to a three-guard lineup when Lumpkin is playing well.

        It is getting harder for Prosser to leave McAfee on the bench.

        “I think he's very confident right now,” assistant coach Jeff Battle said. “He's got that swagger, he's got a little bounce in his step.”

        Said Prosser: “I think he knows one mistake means he's not going to sit the rest of the game. He still needs to work on changing speeds.

        “But his percentage of positive decisions is much higher, and now you can live with a few more errors in judgment because he's playing well overall.”

        McAfee has scored in double figures 11 times this season — XU is 9-2 in those games — including a career-high 20 in the season opener at Butler when he almost single-handedly rescued the Musketeers.

        He had a career-high 10 assists to go with 18 points in a victory over Rhode Island and nine assists against Dayton last week.

        His role changes game to game.

        “He has done a good job of giving us what we need at certain times,” Prosser said. “Against Rhode Island, he gave us great passing; he got the ball to Lenny (Brown) when Lenny was hot. Against Temple, he made baskets when no one else was making baskets.

        “He gives us energy. His freshman to sophomore im provement has really been substantial.”

        Last season, McAfee averaged just 2.7 points, scored in double figures once, shot 37.9 percent from the field, had 20 assists and 33 turnovers.

        His numbers have improved dramatically.

        He is averaging 8.1 points, shooting 40 percent from the field, and has 77 assists and 54 turnovers.

        Xavier could play three games in three days this week. In the NCAA Tournament, it could play twice in three days. McAfee will be even more important as Prosser tries to keep Brown and Lumpkin fresh.

        “In a tournament, your perimeter guys really have to play well because every possession you have to take care of (the ball) on offense,” Prosser said. “His role is magnified.”

        While McAfee agrees he is playing his best ball, he said: “I think people have a lot more to see. I'm way better than what I'm playing right now.” He starts to grin. His eyes light up.

        What's that mean?

        “Secret,” he said, smiling. “You'll just to have to see. When the time comes, and it's time for me to step up and do what I'm capable of doing, then everybody will see.”

       



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