Wednesday, February 4, 2004

Musketeers come through this time

They make plays at crunch time behind seniors Chalmers and Sato

By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer

In the days leading up to Tuesday's Crosstown Shootout at Cintas Center, Xavier coach Thad Matta referred to No. 10 Cincinnati as the best team the Musketeers would face all season.


18 Photos of the Shootout
So considering Xavier entered the matchup one game above .500, it's not hard to see why Matta was so jubilant after Xavier pulled off a 71-69 upset over its archrival.

Walking off the Cintas Center floor after watching his team win its biggest game of the season, Matta embraced assistant coach John Groce, a sign, if nothing else, of how much Xavier needed a win against Cincinnati.

"Emotionally, this is a big win for this team," Matta said. "I know my life will be a little easier for the next 365 days. ... It will help us mentally and give us a little of that confidence back."

Now at 11-9 and its enthusiasm renewed, Xavier has set itself up to make a run at getting back into contention in the Atlantic 10 Conference and possibly an at-large NCAA Tournament bid.

Perhaps just as important, XU found out it could win a big game in the final moments. In eight of nine losses, the Musketeers faced similar circumstances as they did against Cincinnati.

Each time, until Tuesday, the Musketeers found ways to play themselves out of games.

But in the final four minutes against Cincinnati, Xavier erased a three-point deficit and outscored Cincinnati 8-3 to end a frustrating trend. Rather than commit turnovers and play soft defense, Xavier made key shots and forced Cincinnati into bad plays.

"(Xavier players) had a different look in their eyes," Matta said. "We felt like we could do this. It was more of a mindset of, 'We're going to have to make plays to do this.' "

Xavier did it behind its seniors, Lionel Chalmers and Romain Sato, who scored all eight of Xavier's final points. Chalmers hit the big shot with 26 seconds left that gave Xavier a 70-69 lead.

"We know down the stretch we need to make plays," said Sato who made three of four free throws in the last two minutes and scored 18 points with 11 rebounds. "That had been our problem every time in the last four minutes, we don't make plays. Tonight, everybody focused down the stretch."

After playing three of its most challenging games in the last seven days, Xavier gets back into A-10 play with a little more life. The Musketeers are still in last place in the West Division at 2-5, but their remaining schedule is less daunting than the last three weeks in which Xavier lost five of six games.

"I talked to my staff before the game," Matta said. "We said, 'Regardless of the outcome, we've got a lot of basketball to play.' ...But we'll take wins along the way to help build confidence."

Xavier dominance

Xavier has won six of eight against UC for the first time in the Crosstown Shootout series:

2003-04 XU 71, No. 10 UC 69
2002-03 No. 16 XU 50, UC 44
2001-02 UC 75, XU 55
2000-01 XU 69, No. 17 UC 67
1999-2000 XU 66, No. 1 UC 64
1998-99 No. 5 UC 87, XU 77
1997-98 No. 10 XU 88, UC 68
1996-97 XU 71, No. 1 UC 69



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18 Photos of the Shootout
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