By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer
For the second time this season, Xavier found itself with a large second-half lead against Atlantic 10 rival Dayton only to see the advantage crumble in a matter of minutes.
Three weeks ago at UD Arena, Xavier failed to stall Dayton's momentum and suffered a hard-fought loss. Saturday, Xavier not only stopped Dayton when it mattered, but another big shot in a big game by Lionel Chalmers lifted Xavier to a 67-60 victory at sold-out Cintas Center.
Xavier's Lionel Chalmers takes a shot over Dayton's Marques Bennett in the first half.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
With four games left before the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament, Xavier is 16-9 overall and 7-5 in the A-10, increasing its NCAA Tournament credentials with every win. Since falling to 2-5 in the league after the Dayton loss Jan. 31, Xavier has won six straight games.
"For this team and where we were a month ago," Xavier coach Thad Matta said, "I'm happy for our guys."
Dayton (20-6, 10-3 A-10) has lost three of four games and fell back into a first-place tie in the A-10 West with George Washington, which won Saturday at Duquesne.
"We had a tough four out five games on the road," Dayton coach Brian Gregory said. "I thought we performed fairly well in all of them. But on the road in this league against these teams, Xavier, Saint Joes and George Washington, you can't perform fairly well and expect to win."
Xavier pulled away from Dayton early in the second half and built a 17-point lead on the strength of Romain Sato's long-range shooting. He scored eight points during the 18-2 run, including two 3-pointers.
Xavier still led, 57-40, with nine minutes to play when Dayton came back. First, it was a three-point play from senior Keith Waleskowski, who led all players with 24 points and 15 rebounds. Then, it was a turnaround jumper in the lane by Sean Finn, followed by a drive from Warren Williams that cut the margin to 10. Then, with just over a minute left, Finn put back an offensive rebound that trimmed Xavier's lead to three points, 61-58.
"We kind of become orange cones on defense, and they were cruising around us and doing whatever they wanted to do," Matta said.
Having scored just four points in eight minutes, Xavier was self-destructing again.
Then Chalmers got control of the ball with less than a minute to play, and was defended by UD point guard Ramod Marshall. Chalmers faked a baseline drive, hesitated with a dribble, and cut back to the lane for a layup. Xavier led 63-58 with 49 seconds left, and Dayton's comeback was essentially over.
"I drove baseline, and there was nothing there," Chalmers said. "I backed out and I seen (Marshall) let up a little bit. I took advantage and I spinned right back, and I saw the lane and laid it in. Waleskowski came from the other side. I saw him coming, but he was too late."
Chalmers also hit a game-winning shot against Crosstown rival Cincinnati Feb. 3 at Cintas Center.
Chalmers scored 17 points with four assists and earned the Blackburn-McCafferty Most Valuable Player award for the second time in his career against Dayton. Sato, who defended Marshall and Waleskowski throughout the game, finished with 18 points.
Sato and Chalmers, XU's two most experienced seniors, finished their career 7-2 all time against UD.
"That's an incredible feat for the rivalry of this game," Matta said. "For them to step up and play the way they did today was the difference for us."
Team rebounds - 4.
Team rebounds - 2.
3-pointers - UD 1-18 (Bennett 1-5, Waleskowski 0-1, Marshall 0-7, Jones 0-1, Scott 0-1, Williams 0-3), XU 7-14 (Cage 1-1, Doellman 1-1, Chalmers 1-5, Sato 3-6, Finn 1-1). Technicals - Xavier (Team). Officials - Clark, Clinton, Turner. Att - 10,250.
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