By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Now that Xavier has shown it can win close games on the road, a comfortable, double-digit victory might be nice for a return home.
The 13th-ranked Musketeers have won their last two games against Dayton and Duquesne by preventing those opponents from hitting a final shot.
Today, Xavier hosts George Washington, which XU defeated 80-68 Feb. 4 in Washington. The Musketeers (21-4, 12-1) are aiming for their 13th consecutive win, which would eclipse last season's 12-game winning streak. They're taking to heart lessons learned from the Duquesne game.
"You can't take any teams lightly," said point guard Dedrick Finn. "When that game started, we just weren't ready to play. With us, it's all about keeping this (win) streak going. We had a scare the other night. Now we know what can happen."
A freshman, Finn isn't used to situations like Wednesday's, in which Xavier had to come back late in the game against a sub-.500 team.
"During that game, I was worried," Finn said. "I kept saying, 'We're going to win,' but as we got down to the final possession and we were still down (by two points), I was nervous bringing the ball up the court. I think now, we're a different team after that game."
Lionel Chalmers said the Musketeers don't want to let teams get out to early leads anymore - as Duquesne did - and start thinking about an upset.
"We learned from what happened," Chalmers said. "And we'll make sure it doesn't happen again."
Coach Thad Matta hopes the two narrow wins will bring the team closer together heading into the final stage of the regular season before the Atlantic 10 Tournament. He was encouraged that players other than David West and Romain Sato stepped up to make big plays.
Will Caudle, for instance, scored several baskets during a key juncture against Dayton, and Anthony Myles made a last-second tip-in to send the Duquesne game into overtime. There is no telling exactly how much the close games help, though, Matta said.
"You hope it does help," Matta said. "But you won't know until the season is over. Hopefully, it makes us a little stronger."
A stronger Xavier team would be bad news today for George Washington (10-15, 4-10), which has lost five of seven games, including a 94-89 overtime loss at St. Bonaventure Wednesday.
Since losing its conference opener to Richmond, Xavier has won its following home games by an average of 23 points.
The only single-digit win in that group was an 85-77 victory against Dayton Feb. 8, when the Flyers were in first place.
All season, Xavier players have talked about protecting home-court advantage at Cintas Center. Now, they are even happier to be home after a three-game road swing, including the near-loss at Duquesne.
"Coming home is a good feeling," Matta said. "Being home doesn't mean everything, but it is nice."
Sophomore reserve guard Keith Jackson is probably just glad to be back in his own bed. Jackson strained a back muscle Tuesday and experienced enough tightness before the Duquesne game. He said Friday he feels fine and expects to be ready to go today.
Jackson said the Duquesne game could get other teams in the league thinking Xavier is vulnerable, even in Cintas Center.
"They see another team in the conference play us like that," Jackson said. "It gave teams confidence that they can come in here and beat us."
But Chalmers said even though Xavier, the defending league champions, is a marked target for most A-10 teams, the Musketeers have done whatever it takes to win.
"You don't want close games," Chalmers said. "You get used to blowing teams out. But then you get down to the wire (in the last two games), and it's good to know what to do."
George Washington at No. 13 Xavier
Tipoff: 2 p.m. today, Cintas Center (10,250).
Records: George Washington 10-15 (4-10 Atlantic 10), XU 21-4 (12-1).
Radio: WKRC-AM (550).
TV: Fox Sports Ohio.
Series: Xavier leads 13-7.
Line: XU by 17.
Coach: Karl Hobbs (22-31, second season; 22-31 overall).
|Mike Hall ||Fr.||6-6||9.3|
Coach: Thad Matta (47-10, second season; 71-18 overall).
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