Saturday, January 26, 2002

Chalmers a key to XU's hopes

Guard makes strides learning to direct team

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        If Xavier is to beat Dayton today and essentially run away in the Atlantic 10 West race, Lionel Chalmers will have to do the running. A different kind of running than in his past.

        That's running the team, as opposed to running at top speed. The quicksilver guard, in his first season as the starting point guard, is trading in his track shoes for a thinking cap.

        “There's so many things that come with being a point guard, and I'm just starting to get it,” Chalmers said. “I'm just learning the game. Hopefully I'll get it down pretty soon.”

        Chalmers probably will be the X-factor when XU (14-3, 6-0 Atlantic 10) puts its nine-game winning streak on the line against the hot Flyers (12-4, 4-1).

        He'll be matched against senior David Morris, who leads the A-10 in assist-to-turnover ratio at 2.64-to-1 (2-to-1 is considered ideal). Chalmers ranks 12th at 1.11-to-1.

        In league play, Morris is at 5-to-1. He has averaged 9.3 assists over the past four games.

        “Any point guard in America would take those numbers,” XU associate head coach Sean Miller said of Morris. “That almost reflects dominance.”

        Miller would know. His 744 career assists for Pittsburgh a decade ago still rank as the second-most in Big East history.

        Miller and Chalmers talk occasionally about the philosophies of point guard play, such as recognizing when to forego the fast break.

        He recognizes the challenges Chalmers faces: He was a shooting guard in high school. He redshirted his first year at XU. He played both guard spots last season as a reserve. And he's in a new system because of the coaching change.

        “He's beginning to learn,” Miller said. “A guy like Morris, he's been in the same system for four years, and it shows. We're lucky (Chalmers is) able to get in on the ground level (with this staff). I like to think that Lionel two years from now (assuming Chalmers becomes a fifth-year senior) will be something for teams to really worry about.”

        It's not fair to compare Chalmers' ballhandling to Morris', because they're different players. “Chalmers is a scoring point guard,” UD coach Oliver Purnell said. “He puts the dagger in.”

        Chalmers averages 11.5 points; Morris, 5.7. Chalmers shoots 42 percent, including 34.8 percent on 3-pointers. Morris is at 30.3 percent, with 31.1 percent on 3s.

        Chalmers' numbers are all up from last season, when he had a 0.92-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and shot 36.5 percent, including 30.2 percent on 3s. Miami coach Charlie Coles called him XU's MVP and said he would control the team's destiny.

        And XU is winning.

        “Lionel is doing a good job making strides and thinking the game,” XU coach Thad Matta said. “He's learning to change gears.”

        XU's only recent weakness has been turning over the ball: 59 times the past three games. On the season, XU ranks in the bottom half of the league in assists (eighth, 12.71), turnover margin (seventh, plus-0.12) and assist-to-turnover ratio (seventh, 0.86-to-1).

        “We'll get this turnover thing corrected,” Chalmers said.

        UD has won nine of its last 10 games, the only defeat being a 66-59 loss to XU in Dayton. Dayton hasn't won here since Jan.10, 1981, losing 16 straight.

        UD leads the A-10 in field goal percentage defense (36.9 percent, ranking third nationally), scoring defense (59.0, seventh nationally), scoring margin (plus-12.1), rebounding margin (plus-8.8) and assists (17.3). It ranks second in 3-point shooting (35.7 percent) and 3-point defense (29 percent) and third in field goal shooting (44.7 percent).

        “We're trying to catch up with Xavier,” Purnell said. “If we win, it would set up a tremendous race.”


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