By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer
This was the game Xavier University players knew they could play, but until Saturday they had not been disciplined enough to do it.
Something, whether it was lazy defense or inconsistent offense, prevented the Musketeers from playing up to their capabilities through the first 11 games.
Then Alabama came to town Saturday, and Xavier played with a sense of purpose not seen since last season's Atlantic 10 Conference regular-season championship run.
Xavier's Lionel Chalmers goes to the hoop for two first half points.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
Xavier's attacking defense forced 17 Alabama turnovers, and the Musketeers shot well for the third straight game to post their most impressive win this season, 68-47 in front of 10,250 at Cintas Center.
Alabama (8-3) entered the game at No. 5 in the Ratings Percentage Index according to CollegeRPI.com
"It's refreshing," said senior guard Lionel Chalmers, who scored 10 points and recorded four assists for XU. "You know that you can do it, and then you do it. We've seen it all year, but in spurts. Not for 40 minutes."
Xavier (8-4) played Saturday's entire game the way coach Thad Matta wants his team to play the rest of the season.
Point guard Dedrick Finn led an offense that used ball movement to get high-percentage shots, and Xavier held Alabama more than 29 points below its season average.
"Let's keep building on how we played today," Matta said. "We did a lot of good things, but we've got to continue to get better even at those things."
The 47 points were the fewest Alabama scored this season, with the previous low being 62 points in a season-opening loss to Pittsburgh.
Xavier's Romain Sato celebrates a first half Alabama turnover.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
Romain Sato limited Kennedy Winston, Alabama's leading scorer, to a season-low seven points on 2-of-8 shooting from the field. Only two Crimson Tide players, Earnest Shelton and Antoine Pettway, reached double figures in scoring - each finished with 10 points.
Xavier switched between man-to-man and zone defenses, which at times confused Alabama on offense.
"They got up and really pressured us," Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said. "They outplayed us in every phase of the game. We didn't play very well, and (Xavier) had a lot to do with that."
Musketeers center Anthony Myles was most responsible for Xavier outplaying Alabama down low.
Myles scored a career-high 19 points and blocked two shots while limiting Alabama forward Chuck Davis to eight points.
Myles benefited from Xavier's offensive game plan, which involved plenty of passes before finding open shots. The Musketeers shot 48 percent from the field with 14 assists and just seven turnovers.
"That's what has to be our offensive calling card," Matta said, "that we have to take care of the ball."
Xavier threw away 20 turnovers Dec. 13 in an 82-70 loss to Mississippi State, the Musketeers' other Southeastern Conference opponent.
Finn has commanded the offense with more poise and aggressiveness during Xavier's three-game win streak than he did in the first month of the season.
"He's really settled into that role (of a floor leader)," Matta said. "I honestly feel good when he has the ball in his hands."
Xavier led 33-28 at the half and used a 10-0 second half run to build a 13-point lead with 13 minutes to play.
The deficit was insurmountable for Alabama, which could not find any offensive flow against the Musketeers' defense.
"When we get stops, we're a hard team to beat," Chalmers said. "Anybody that comes in here, we're not going to let them win."
Team rebounds - 3.
Team rebounds - 0.
3-pointers - Alabama 5-13 (Winston 0-1, Shelton 2-7, Pettway 3-5), Xavier 7-17 (Doellman 1-1, Chalmers 2-4, Sato 3-8, Finn 1-2, Cage 0-1, Jackson 0-1). Technicals - None. Officials - Linsay, Anderson, Rutecki. Attendance - 10,250.
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