Xavier has rebounded nicely after back-to-back losses took the shine off its longest undefeated start in more than a decade. If recent history is any indication, the Musketeers should have a good chance of continuing their return to form in their next game.
The No. 16 Musketeers go for their 17th straight home win in conference play Thursday night, when they begin their quest for a third consecutive Atlantic 10 regular-season title against Saint Louis in the teams’ conference opener.
Xavier (11-2) won its first nine games for its longest undefeated start since it opened a school-record 10-0 in 1996-97, but the Musketeers then suffered consecutive losses to then-No. 6 Duke and Butler, which has climbed into the AP poll at No. 21.
Xavier rebounded with convincing wins over Robert Morris on Dec. 31 and Virginia on Saturday, getting it back on track for conference play, which the Musketeers have dominated lately.
Their back-to-back A-10 regular-season crowns have been due in large part to their 16-0 home record against conference rivals over that stretch. They were 14-2 overall in conference in 2007-08.
Coaches from the A-10 and selected members of the media have again picked Xavier as the team to beat this season, but Musketeers coach Sean Miller isn’t putting too much stock in his team’s recent conference success or the predictions that it will continue.
“I think every coach knows that doesn’t mean anything,” Miller told the team’s official Web site. “You want to be there at the end. … I think there are a number of teams in the league that have the ability to win the conference championship.”
Xavier certainly looked like one of them in Saturday’s 84-70 win over Virginia. The Musketeers, who scored 19 straight points during the first half, finished with a season-high point total while holding Virginia to 37.5 percent shooting.
“I am very, very proud of our team today,” Miller said. “Any time you can come into the ACC on their home court and leave with a hard-fought victory, any program relishes those opportunities, and certainly we do.
“It also gave us our 11th win and we play arguably one of the top five schedules in college basketball. For us to be 11-2 says a lot about our game.”
Xavier took a 15-point lead over Virginia midway through the first half and didn’t let up the rest of the way.
“We know that when we’ve got our foot on somebody’s throat, we’ve got to keep it there,” said senior guard B.J. Raymond, who scored 24 points and made four of Xavier’s nine 3-pointers. “We can’t think that the game is over.”
That’s a lesson the Musketeers likely learned in last season’s game against Saint Louis (9-5). Then-No. 13 Xavier led by 15 in the second half, but needed Derrick Brown’s buzzer-beating tip-in to pull out the 70-68 road win Feb. 7.
The Billikens, who finished 7-9 in conference play last season, could again pose a threat to the Musketeers as they’ve won seven of eight following a 2-4 start.
They trailed 35-21 at halftime Friday night before Tommie Liddell III scored 15 of his game-high 17 points in the second half to give Saint Louis the 60-52 win over North Carolina A&T.
Xavier has won its last two games against Saint Louis to improve to 23-12 in the series.