Musketeers get lead early and keep it
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CINCINNATI -- There is a recognizable expanse -- a very easy-to-spot difference -- between a college basketball team that looks as if it is in an early December stretch still trying to find an identity and a counterpart giving the impression it is ready to fight for a conference crown.
Thursday night on the Cintas Center floor, two such teams sat on opposite benches. Fittingly, they wore contrasting light and dark jerseys -- for the differences between these squads could not have been more dramatic.
Xavier did a lot right, looking like a team that very well could make a march through March, as the Musketeers rolled to an 86-50 victory against a visiting Duquesne team that couldn't do a lot right.
Xavier (14-6, 6-1 Atlantic 10) was led by Jason Love and Jordan Crawford, who each had 17 points, but those statistics don't begin to explain the ease with which the Musketeers were able to handle Duquesne on a man-by-man basis.
No, this wasn't a couple of guys at the top of the rotation -- one in the post and one on the perimeter -- playing better than Duquesne's top guys; this was Xavier utilizing every single guy (from the top man to the final walk-on) to stroll past the Dukes.
Upon entering the postgame media room, Xavier coach Chris Mack said, before he took any questions: "I thought that was one of our most complete games of the year, from the start of the game until the end."
It would be hard to fathom that the Musketeers -- who shot 32 for 60 from the field and outrebounded the Dukes, 47-26 -- could have played much better.
Conversely, a pall fell over Dukes coach Ron Everhart as he spoke after the game as players filed by, most of them with their heads down.
Everhart's team, led by Melquan Bolding's 14 points, gave up 46 points in the lane and got an unusual subpar performance from one of the conference's top players, Damian Saunders, who had just six points and eight rebounds -- dismal by his standards.
"I just thought we didn't compete well defensively," Everhart said, looking well-worn, more like he was just in a fight, not a basketball game. "I just thought our defensive effort and our rebounding effort was totally unacceptable."
Xavier made certain this one was over early, with a 43-23 halftime advantage. Whenever Duquesne wanted to run in the first half, Xavier ran faster. Whenever Duquesne went a little halfcourt in the first half, Xavier muscled up and played it tougher.
Out of the gate, it was 10-2 Xavier and that turned into a 33-14 Musketeers lead.
The performance by Love, a 6-foot-9 Philadelphia bruiser, was complemented by 7-footer Kenny Frease in the post, and it was glaringly evident that the Dukes couldn't handle both.
Frease had the first double-double of his career with 13 points and 12 rebounds, going along with that Love score line of 17 points (on 8-for-9 shooting) that also included 9 rebounds in just 19 minutes.
"We talked about doubling them, we went down and doubled them hard," Everhart said. "Late in the [first] half, we didn't do a very good job getting the double to them on time. Then they got the ball out to the perimeter, went through that stretch where they made four or five 3s in like seven possessions ..."
And then it was over, with the Dukes going through the motions in the second half.
"There's no question about it, in terms of physical size and talent, we certainly had a little bit of a deficit there," Everhart said. "But I thought there were times our effort was also unacceptable."
First Published January 29, 2010 12:00 am