NEW YORK (AP)—It would have been easy for Xavier to look past Fordham considering the Rams came into Wednesday night’s game on a 19-game losing streak, one of which was a 48-point win by the Musketeers.
It wasn’t a huge blowout like the earlier meeting, but No. 25 Xavier beat the Rams 82-56, moving a win closer to at least a share of its fourth straight Atlantic 10 regular-season championship.
“I think our guys, especially the older players, understand we were playing for much more than a game against Fordham,” first-year coach Chris Mack said. “We came in knowing we had two games left for a conference championship. I don’t think it was very hard to motivate them knowing that they were 80 minutes, now 40, from a fourth straight championship.”
Jamel McLean scored 13 of his 16 points in the first half for Xavier, which won its sixth straight and 10th in 11 games. The Musketeers (22-7, 13-2) are tied with No. 20 Temple for first place in the Atlantic 10, and a win in the regular-season finale Saturday against St. Bonaventure would mean at least a share of the title.
“Every game is an important one,” point guard Terrell Holloway said. “We know our goal is to go out and win the Atlantic 10 championship and we won’t rest for one game or even one practice. We come into every game with the same mindset: that it’s important to win.”
Xavier moved into the Top 25 on Monday for the first time this season following its 78-76 double-overtime win against Richmond. The Musketeers have been ranked in each of the last four seasons.
Holloway had 14 points for Xavier and Jordan Crawford and Mark Lyons both added 11. Jason Love had eight points and 13 rebounds as the Musketeers finished with a 56-41 advantage on the boards.
Chris Gaston had 15 points and 13 rebounds, the 18th double-double of the season for the freshman, for the Rams (2-25, 0-15), who close their season Friday at Duquesne.
Lyons hit two 3-pointers in Xavier’s 12-3 run to close the first half for a 45-31 lead.
The first time these teams met, in Cincinnati on Jan. 31, Xavier led 45-32 at halftime and went on to score 63 points in the second half for a 108-60 victory.
On Wednesday, the Musketeers only had 37 points in the second half but were still able to beat Fordham for an eighth straight time. They improved their record to 18-1 in the series since the schools joined the Atlantic 10 for the 1995-96 season.
Xavier is looking for its eighth Atlantic 10 regular-season title.
“I don’t think we put too much pressure on ourselves because when you do that’s when you start to fall as a team,” McLean said. “We came out here playing the same confident basketball like we’ve been doing and we do that regardless of the team we play because things can happen on the road and our coaches did a great job of keeping us focused for this road win.”
Fordham, which has had one winning season in the A-10, is looking for its eighth conference win over the last three years.
Crawford had the last five points of Xavier’s 15-6 run to open the second half. Combined with the 12-3 run to close the first half, the Musketeers went on a 27-9 spurt that made it 60-37 with 15:53 to play.
Fordham interim coach Jared Grasso, who took over when Dereck Whittenburg was fired on Dec. 3, saw his record fall to 1-20.
“We played great, I thought, for 10, 15 minutes. Then we went through a lull where we missed some shots and they extended the lead,” Grasso said. “I still thought we played pretty hard but we just ran out of gas. That’s why they’re a Top 25 team. We’ve got to keep fighting. We have an 8 a.m. flight to Pittsburgh, then a noon game on Friday and we have to find a way to win.”