Sunday, February 29, 2004

Musketeers finally fall off tightrope, derailing hopes

By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The warning signs that blinked for weeks were all but ignored and overshadowed by the winning. They indicated that Xavier University was not playing its best basketball despite its seven straight victories.

Xavier's Brandon Cole (left) and Justin Cage sit dejected on the bench at the end of their game against Duquesne Saturday.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
In vaulting from last place to third place in the Atlantic 10 West in less than a month, Xavier continued to make sloppy mistakes and did not put together a complete, well-played game. Saturday, those miscues caught up with Xavier and might have ended the Musketeers NCAA Tournament at-large hopes.

Xavier lost 74-68 at home to Duquesne, dropping to 17-10 and 8-6 in the A-10, a half-game behind third-place Richmond. An NCAA bubble team going into Saturday's game, Xavier might just have to win the A-10 Tournament if it wants to avoid settling for the National Invitation Tournament.

In a game with 31 lead changes, the Musketeers made just two field goals in the last 10:51, and close to half of the 10,250 Cintas Center fans shuffled out by the time the final buzzer sounded. Xavier was never out of contention until the last half-minute, when Duquesne made game-winning free throws, and Xavier failed to execute its offense.

"We got a little bit tight," Xavier coach Thad Matta said. "When you've played 27 games, that becomes more mental than anything else."

The late-game problems were the sort of things that Xavier figured it had solved during its winning streak. But Saturday, the turnovers, defensive lapses and inability to run the offense in pressure situations returned.

"I don't think we've played really well through this stretch (seven straight wins), Matta said. "Fortunately, we've been able to get ourselves out of trouble. We were unable to make the plays we needed down the stretch today."

Xavier's play in the final moments resembled the XU team that lost five of six at the end of January, including a 13-point loss at Duquesne Jan. 14.

"We played terrible today," said senior Romain Sato, who scored 19 of his 21 points in the first half. "Our offense is best when we move the ball and get an extra pass and everybody gets a touch. It seemed like today in the game we went back to how we used to play."

The Musketeers committed 21 turnovers, 13 by seniors Sato, Lionel Chalmers and Anthony Myles. Duquesne turned those turnovers into 20 points and shot 49 percent.

Xavier made 44.9 percent of its shots, but its only field goals in the last 10:51 came on a Sato tip-in and a 3-pointer from Dedrick Finn with 11 seconds left. Xavier did not score for almost seven minutes as Duquesne (10-15, 5-9 A-10) turned a two-point deficit into a four-point lead, 63-59.

"Tough loss, but you get what you deserve when you don't play as well as you're capable of playing," Matta said. "We take great pride in not turning the ball over and (we) come out and do it 21 times."

The Dukes became the first team to beat Xavier twice in the regular season since George Washington did it in 1996. Xavier lost a regular-season game and an Atlantic 10 Tournament game to St. Bonaventure in 2000.

"Both times (Duquesne) gave us trouble," Chalmers said. "They gave us problems. I don't know what the hell it is. They play at a different level when they play against us."

XU's last home game is Wednesday vs. George Washington.



J. Tricco334900344211
R. Tricco15240040406
Team rebounds - 4.

Team rebounds - 3.

Duquesne3836- 74
Xavier3830- 68
3-pointers - Duquesne 9-18 (J. Tricco 3-7, McAllister 2-4, R. Tricco 2-2, Higgins 2-4, Pawlak 0-1), Xavier 9-22 (Cage 0-2, Doellman 0-1, Chalmers 5-10, Sato 3-6, Finn 1-3). Technicals - None. Officials - Jack Sweeney, Burt Walton, Bill McCarthy. Attendance - 10,250.

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