Sunday, March 7, 2004

XU takes Temple's best punch

Trailing by 16 late, Muskies rally on the road

By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer

PHILADELPHIA - In its final regular-season game, and one that it had to win to stay on the NCAA Tournament bubble, Xavier looked beaten in the second half against Temple Saturday.

Temple's Tyreek Byard drives downcourt as Xavier's Romain Sato (10) defends.
(AP photo)
Yet, today Xavier remains in NCAA contention after making an improbable comeback to defeat the Owls 70-69 in front of 5,237 at Liacouras Center.

The Musketeers (19-10, 10-6 Atlantic 10) trailed by 16 points with 14 minutes to play but outscored Temple 32-15 from that point to win for the ninth time in 10 games.

The magnitude of the comeback in a must-win situation displayed the sense of resolve Xavier has built up since the team was 10-9 at the end of January.

"It brings us closer together," said reserve guard Dedrick Finn, who scored three points but provided plenty of second-half court leadership. "We never put our heads down. We could have easily put our heads down and just thrown it away. We've got to stay together. A lot of people think our season is over with, like we can't get to the (NCAA) Tournament. We think we still can."

Temple senior David Hawkins scored his 28th point of the game on his eighth 3-pointer with 14:32 to play, giving Temple a 54-38 lead. Xavier had been unable to stop the nation's third-leading scorer to that point, and it looked as though Hawkins would shoot Temple (15-12, 9-7 A-10) to an easy win.

"I don't know if I've seen a performance like he was having out there," Xavier coach Thad Matta said. "We had no answers. He was taking the ball out of bounds right in front of our bench one time. I said, 'Just miss once.' He looked at me and smiled and ran to the other side and made a 3."

Matta switched to a zone defense after Hawkins' eighth 3-pointer, and Hawkins did not make another field goal the rest of the game. He made three more free throws to finish with 31 points.

Xavier, meanwhile, increased its offensive movement and found wide-open jumpers and layups. Xavier shot 59.1 percent in the second half.

The Musketeers closed the gap to seven, 60-53, when Justin Doellman hit his fourth 3-pointer with 7:22 left. He finished with a season-high 16 points.

A minute later, Romain Sato dunked an offensive rebound, cutting the margin to 60-57. Lionel Chalmers made a 3-pointer with 4:08 to play, giving Xavier its first second half lead, 63-62.

"We just stuck with it," Chalmers said. "(Shots) started to fall, and all of a sudden we came back."

The score was tied 65-65 with just more than a minute left when Chalmers fired a pass from the top of the key to Anthony Myles underneath the basket. Myles completed the play with a dunk, and Xavier did not trail again, making three free throws in the last 30 seconds.

"It shows how tough we are, how much fight we have in us," Chalmers said. "But at the same time, we have to fix what got us down 16. Not playing hard. Letting them dictate momentum. Those are things that got us down, and we fixed those."

Xavier opens the A-10 Tournament Wednesday as the fourth seed in the West playing St. Bonaventure, which earned the East's No. 5 seed. If Xavier wins that game, the Musketeers will advance to play Saint Joseph's (27-0) Thursday in the quarterfinals, a game that could have significant NCAA Tournament implications.

"I'd like to have a shot (at Saint Joseph's)," Matta said. "Honestly, though, I'm not going to think about that tournament until I wake up tomorrow morning."



Team rebounds - 1.

Team rebounds - 3.

3-pointers - XU 10-25 (Cage 1-1, Doellman 4-5, Chalmers 3-10, Sato 2-6, Finn 0-3), Temple 12-31 (Robinson 0-2, Byard 2-6, Collins 1-5, Hawkins 8-17, Salisbery 1-1). Technicals - None. Officials - Connolly, Elliot, Shapiro. Attendance - 5,237.

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