Tuesday, February 20, 2001

Xavier basks in Cintas success


Meek start, but now it's loud and proud

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Tom Penders Jr., a George Washington assistant coach, was watching tapes last month of Xavier's early season home games and told XU coach Skip Prosser, “Cintas Center doesn't seem to be as intimidating as the (Cincinnati) Gardens was.”

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        But when the Colonials' Patrick Ngongba went to the free-throw line Feb.3 with a second left and XU up by one, the building did a 140-decibel dance. Everything XU officials had drawn up in blueprints — the closeness of seats to the court, the decision to put the student section behind that basket — came to fruition as Ngongba's shot clanged iron.

        “That (moment) was one of the reasons we brought basketball on campus,” XU assistant coach Mark Schmidt said.

        XU (19-5) closes the first home schedule in its $46 million building Wednesday against St. Bonaventure. Even with a 12-1 home mark, the Musketeers insist they're still settling in.

        “There was a period of adjustment,” Prosser said. “But I think with each passing game, you become more familiar here.”

        XU sold out 12 of its 14 home games and will finish with a school-record 10,072 attendance average. The women's team went 13-0 — its first unbeaten home season — with a 2,058 attendance average that nearly tripled the previous school record.

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        For the men, there was pressure to approximate the success they enjoyed at the Gardens. XU went 215-25 (.896) after moving there in the 1983-84 season, including 55-3 the past four seasons.

        “We've played pretty well at home, with the exception of the one loss (to Massachusetts),” senior guard Maurice McAfee said. “It's a new gym ... It takes some getting used to.”

        There were new backboards whose rims hadn't yet loosened up. New shooting backgrounds to master.

        XU struggled early on 3-point shots and was unimpressive in beating Eastern Kentucky and Samford.

        “When you have new backboards, the ball's going to come off harder,” Schmidt said. “Then it becomes psychological: "The rims are tight.' You start missing and blaming it on the rim.”

        Being able to practice daily on its game floor, as opposed to rare Gardens practices, helped XU grow comfortable. It has shot 45.1 percent at home and 39 percent on the road.

        “At the Gardens, you didn't have a home-court advantage; you were just hoping for a home-crowd advantage,” Prosser said. “I think ultimately we're going to have both.”

        Then there were the fans, uncharacteristically quiet during the first eight home games. Prosser called them out on his weekly radio show after the UMass game, saying they needed to be louder, and they responded against Dayton with what UD coach Oliver Purnell called “the loudest crowd we've faced this year.”

        “It's such a nice, pristine facility, and you've got to break it in,” XU radio analyst Steve Wolf said. “It's not like you're going to take a pair of new shoes and run a mile, and this was the same way.”

        The crowds the past five games have been much louder. At times, Wolf has been unable to hear his producer through his headphones and had to use hand signals.

        “You always worry when you have luxury boxes and lounges that your fans could become a wine-and-cheese crowd,” Prosser said. “You don't want that. Xavier has always had a great, blue-collar, raucous crowd at the Gardens.”

        Now it's getting one again.

        “We're playing well here, and the fans are helping us,” sophomore center David West said. “This is really becoming our home.”

       



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