Wednesday, March 10, 1999

Seniors will set tempo for XU

Motivation key to NIT success

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Senior leadership is important for any team in the postseason.

        It may be even moreso for Xavier as it enters tonight's game at Toledo in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament (7:05 p.m.).

  • When: 7:05 p.m. today
  • What: First round, NIT
  • Where: Savage Hall (9,000), Toledo
  • Records: Xavier 21-10; Toledo 19-8
  • Next: Winner plays Wake Forest-Alabama winner
  • TV: None
  • Radio: WLW-AM (700)
  • 10-4: XU's record in postseason NIT games
  • 14-1: Toledo's home record this season
  • 62: Toledo's RPI ranking, eight spots ahead of Xavier (70)
        The Musketeer seniors — Gary Lumpkin, Lenny Brown and James Posey — have been unable to conceal their disappointment since not being selected to the 64-team NCAA Tournament.

        The three, who have set the tone for Xavier all season, know the underclassmen will be following their lead in the NIT.

        “We have to have a positive attitude throughout the whole thing,” Lumpkin said. “It's very difficult. It's going to be tough for us.”

        “I could deliver the Sermon on The Mount,” XU coach Skip Prosser said. “But they have to be motivated and want to get it done.”

        Lumpkin and Brown have not had exceptional postseasons to this point. Brown had looked forward to the NCAA and proving himself on a national level.

        While the NIT will have fewer viewers, he still has an opportunity to play as many as five more games, and could end up with more postseason chances than had Xavier gone to the NCAA.

        His long-time backcourt mate also seeks postseason redemption.

        “I don't feel I've had a good tournament game either,” Lumpkin said. “I've been kind of passive. This year I have to step up and be more of a threat, especially offensively.”

        Talk about Xavier's chances to win the NIT, or even get to the semifinals in New York, seems premature. First it has to get past a Toledo team that has only lost once at home this season.

        If the Musketeers are to win any NIT games, Lumpkin and Brown will have to play well.

        Brown has shot 37.5 from the field in three NCAA Tournament games and averaged 12.7 points. Lumpkin has shot 30.6 from the field and averaged 11.0 points.

        Posey would seem to be less of a wild card. He has been the picture of consistency and even elevated his play in the postseason, shooting 70.4 percent from the field and averaging 17.7 points and 7.3 rebounds in NCAA games.

        “I feel like all eyes are on me,” Posey said. “I have to perform. Plus I have high expectations for myself. Just going out there and getting the job done, that's satisfying to me.... I'm going to play to win. I play my heart out when I'm on the court. It's not hard.”

        Only 12 times this season have all three seniors scored in double figures, and XU is 10-2 in those games — the only losses were at Cincinnati and Friday night against Temple.

        The Atlantic 10 Conference semifinal loss was the first time they all scored 15 or more points on the same night.

        • Oher notable numbers:

        • When the trio combines for more than 45 points, XU is 14-4

        • When the trio combines for fewer than 40 points, XU is 4-3

        • In games when two of the three scored 20 or more, XU is 3-2

        Ironically, the two games in which the seniors totaled the most points were both losses (61 at Dayton, 59 at Cincinnati).

        The spotlight shines most brightly on Lumpkin.

        The four-year starter has called his own play this season “lousy” and “inconsistent.” Tonight's game will be his 114th in a row in Xavier's starting lineup.

        “He's got to play well in order for us to play well,” Brown said. “When he's playing well, his whole game is clicking and the whole team is clicking.”

        Lumpkin is coming off one his better games. He had 19 points, including five three-pointers, and seven assists against Temple.

        He even admitted to flashbacks to his stellar sophomore season, when he was named first-team all-Atlantic 10. This year, Lumpkin received no all-league recognition.

        “Big-time players make big-time plays,” Prosser said. “That's the bottom line, and they need to make big plays. The whole team does, but those guys should really lead the way.

        “Senior leadership often defines levels of teams,” Prosser said earlier this season. “Most coaches say the same things. We all read the same Lombardi (and) Knight books. Then a couple of those kids take over in the locker room. What they say takes on more weight.”

        TOLEDO NEWS: It is expected that Toledo will start 5-foot-11 sophomore Bernard Scott (1.9 ppg) at point guard tonight. Four players — starter Justin Hall, occasional starter Art Norman, Rickey Strong and Robierre Cullars — were suspended for violating team rules and did not play in the Rockets' Mid-American Conference tournament loss to Ohio University (70-60).

        Strong, a backup center (4.8 ppg), is no longer with the team. The other three have been practicing, but coach Stan Joplin has said it will be a game-day decision whether they play vs. Xavier.

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