Saturday, March 11, 2000

Xavier back on bubble - for NIT this time


Prosser holds no hope of getting call from NCAA

BY MICHAEL PERRY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        PHILADELPHIA — Rather than wait for their name to appear on the TV screen Sunday evening when the NCAA Tournament field is announced, the Xavier Musketeers will have to wait for a phone call from the National Invitation Tournament later that night.

        Coach Skip Prosser told his players after Thursday night's 72-69 loss to St. Bonaventure at the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament that realistically they could not hold out much hope for an NCAA berth.

        “There's no guarantee we'll get a bid to the NIT, but given how well we did last year and how well we drew (fans) ... I think we're attractive for the NIT,” Prosser said.

        Last year, Xavier advanced to the NIT final four in New York and ended up with five postseason games.

        Athletic Director Mike Bobinski, who received contingency forms from the NIT weeks ago checking XU's interest and the availability of the Cincinnati Gardens, said he would consider requesting a first game on the road, then pushing for two home games — should the Musketeers keep winning.

        That was the formula last season when XU won at Toledo, then defeated Wake Forest and Princeton at the Gardens. It's unlikely they would get three home games.

        Prosser hadn't given all that much thought, other than to say: “You've got to win one to play a second one.”

        Among teams in the region that also could end up in the NIT: Notre Dame and Villanova from the Big East; Kent, Bowling Green, Toledo and Ohio from the Mid-American Conference; Marquette and Saint Louis from Conference USA; Southwest Missouri State, Indiana State and Southern Illinois from the Missouri Valley Conference; Michigan (Big Ten), Missouri (Big 12) and Detroit (Midwestern Collegiate).

        “I think we have so many young players on our team that every time you can play against good teams, it helps you,” Prosser said. “I think that's something we should do. As a player, you always want to keep playing as long as you can. That's where we're at right now.”

        The Xavier coach was sitting in his hotel room Friday morning, less than 12 hours after the Musketeers' latest loss. He said the coaching staff was up at 3 a.m. watching the Bonnies' rally from an 11-point, second-half deficit.

        “Last night,” Prosser said, “was in many ways a microcosm of the season.”

        It was the third time Xavier squandered a double-digit second-half lead (Marquette and George Washington were the others). XU also blew a double-digit first-half lead at Miami.

        The maddening series of plays that allowed St. Bonaventure back in Thursday night's game came when four different Musketeers committed five straight turnovers.

        By the time Xavier got off another shot attempt, SBU had cut the deficit to 46-44 with 12:27 remaining.

        “Our lack of poise, or whatever you want to call it, reared its ugly head again,” Prosser said. “It wasn't that they were stealing the ball from us; we were throwing the ball to them or we traveled. It's disconcerting. It's devastating.”

        It's the reason Xavier is 20-11 and not 24-7 or 23-8.

        Aside from Maurice McAfee, who scored a career-high 27 points and tied a Xavier record with seven 3-pointers, the rest of the team shot just 33.3 percent from the field against the Bonnies.

        Senior Darnell Williams, who sprained his right knee but is expected to be able to play next week, scored in double figures for the 10th straight game but was just 3-of-10 from the field — all were 3-point attempts.

        In two games in Philadelphia, sophomore Lloyd Price averaged 5.5 points on 5-of-20 shooting, sophomore Kevin Frey averaged 4.0 points on 3-of-14 shooting and starting forward Aaron Turner averaged 2.5 points on 1-of-5 shooting.

        From Frey and Alvin Brown, the first two guys off the bench, the Musketeers got a combined 13 points in two nights.

        “We need some time off right now,” Prosser said. “We've gone a long stretch. Our guys need a couple days off. Then we need to get back in the gym.”

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