Sunday, February 8, 2004

Baby steps suit Xavier

A-10 win gives team small lift

By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Last place does not sit well with Xavier University. Not when the Musketeers have won the previous two Atlantic 10 Conference West Division titles.

Xavier's Anthony Myles plays tough defense against Fordham's Derrick Breland.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
Saturday, Xavier began its ascent from the A-10 West basement by drubbing Fordham, the last-place team in the East, 74-52 in front of 10,019 at Cintas Center. The win moved Xavier to 12-9 overall and 3-5 in the Atlantic 10, where the Musketeers are still at the bottom of the West but no longer by themselves.

La Salle fell into a last-place tie with Xavier by losing to Saint Joseph's Saturday.

"We're climbing from the bottom and trying to get as high as we can as far as the Atlantic 10 is concerned," said senior Lionel Chalmers, who scored 23 points with a career-high seven 3-pointers. "It's definitely a mission right now."

The 22-point margin was hardly unexpected, although it's only Xavier's third league win. After all, Xavier hasn't lost to Fordham in 10 meetings since the teams joined the Atlantic 10 in 1995.

But Saturday's game made the kind of statement Xavier needs if it is to climb out of the A-10's basement.

"As long as we play the way we're capable of playing, defend like we need to, I think (we can move up)," Chalmers said. "We sustained efforts for periods. We didn't do it for 40 minutes, and that's what we're trying to aim for. If we go out for 40 minutes and play, we can beat anybody we want."

That will be coach Thad Matta's message to his team entering Tuesday's game at Richmond, which beat Xavier Jan. 25 at Cintas Center. Matta has been pleased with his team's overall play the past two weeks but is still concerned about lapses in effort during games.

"I think this team has played pretty good basketball," Matta said. "You're constantly striving to get better every day, and I think we've done that, but we weren't as focused there in the second half as we needed to be."

A few letdowns, primarily on defense, weren't going to keep Xavier from routing Fordham, however. The Rams shot just 35.7 percent from the field and were outrebounded by Xavier 50-31. Romain Sato recorded his fourth double-double of the season with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Anthony Myles grabbed nine boards, eight of them on the offensive end, to go with 16 points.

The Musketeers also distributed 17 assists, led by Sato, who had six. Fordham finished with just eight assists and 12 turnovers.

Despite the dominance of Xavier's second straight victory, Matta isn't about to go around extolling the strength of his team with eight A-10 games left in the regular season. Half of those are on the road, where Xavier is 1-3 in the league, and half are against teams that already have defeated Xavier this season.

"We're in a situation where we've got to keep the hammer down all the way through, looking to get better individually and as a team," Matta said. "To look past tomorrow would be foolish on our part. We've still got such a ways to go to get this team where it needs to be. Two (wins) in a row doesn't mean anything to me. We're not that good of a basketball team to think about the big picture right now."



Team rebounds - 3.

Team rebounds - 3.

3-pointers - F 3-19 (Haynes 1-5, Anderson 2-2, Jarrell-Wright 0-3, Breland 0-6, Williamson 0-1, Cooper 0-1, Osei 0-1), XU 10-24 (Doellman 0-3, Chalmers 7-11, Sato 3-7, Finn 0-2, Christiansen 0-1). Technicals - None. Officials - Driscoll, Scirollo, O'Connell. Attendance - 10,019.

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