By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer
DAYTON, Ohio - Lionel Chalmers hugged anyone in sight, and there were plenty of Xavier fans to hug.
"We made history, baby!" he shouted over and over. The throng of Xavier fans on the UD Arena court kept growing, and Chalmers and the rest of the Xavier players continued rejoicing as they cut down the nets. The scene was an emotional ending to the regular season as Xavier completed its improbable turnaround from last place to Atlantic 10 champion in a month and a half.
Chalmers (left): "We made history, baby!"
(Craig Ruttle photo)
Xavier (23-10) accomplished what no other Atlantic 10 Conference team had ever done before Saturday night. The Musketeers won their fourth game in four days and claimed the program's third Atlantic 10 championship with a 58-49 victory against Dayton.
It was Xavier's second A-10 championship in three years.
On Jan. 31, Xavier was 10-9 and 2-5 in the A-10 after losing at Dayton, the A-10 West champion.
"It's unbelievable," Chalmers said during the impromptu postgame celebration. "I can't even feel what it's really like yet, because I'm exhausted."
Chalmers was named the tournament MVP after averaging 17.5 points in four games. He had an off night offensively Saturday, finishing with just one field goal and seven points, but it didn't take away from his euphoria.
"It's a great feeling, and I'm just enjoying the moment right now," Chalmers said.
Xavier became the ninth team in Division I history to win a league tournament in four days.
The Musketeers finished the game on a 15-2 run over the final seven minutes and did not allow a Dayton (24-8) field goal for the final 8:31.
Xavier had not been performing as well offensively Saturday as it had during the previous three days. So Xavier coach Thad Matta reiterated the importance of defense to his players during a timeout with 7:20 left and Dayton ahead 47-43. He told them something he had heard from Kansas coach Bill Self.
"If you're not playing particularly well offensively in postseason play, you've got to make sure they don't play well offensively," Matta said. "It was more to challenge the defense."
Thad Matta cuts 'em down. It was Xavier's second A-10 title in the last three years.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
Dayton did not score again until senior Ramod Marshall made two free throws with 54 seconds left.
"They played a zone in the second half, the last 10 minutes or so," Dayton coach Brian Gregory said. "We got some looks. The one thing is, you've still got to keep working in the post, and you still have to figure out how to get it in there."
Xavier took the lead for good, 49-47, when sophomore guard Dedrick Finn hit a step-back jumper in the lane with three and half minutes to play. It was Xavier's first second-half lead.
The teams played to a 27-27 tie in the first half with seven lead changes and eight ties.
Dayton looked as if it might break open the game early in the second half when the Flyers went on a 7-0 run and led 36-29. An incensed Matta called for a timeout and berated his team for more than a minute.
"I wanted to make sure that we didn't forget what we were here to do," Matta said. "I saw a look in a couple guys eyes of we haven't been in this position in four days, like what's going on."
Xavier had not trailed in the second half during the three previous games, which it had won by an average of 23 points. Matta said the circumstances of having to make a late comeback against Dayton could help Xavier as it prepares for the NCAA Tournament later in the week.
"This was a good test for us again tonight," Matta said. "Even the Saint Joe's game was tremendous for us, and even (Friday) against GW was tough."
Team rebounds - 1.
Team rebounds - 1.
3-pointers - XU 3-20 (Doellman 1-6, Chalmers 1-5, Sato 0-7, Finn 1-2), UD 5-21 (Bennett 0-2, Waleskowski 1-1, Marshall 3-10, Jones 0-5, Williams 1-3). Officials - Scagliotta, Greenwood, Clark. Attendance - 13,133.
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