CINCINNATI (AP)—Stepping in for an All-American might concern some players. Xavier’s Mark Lyons had no problem.
Lyons, taking over at point guard for suspended senior Tu Holloway, scored 22 points and Dezmine Wells added 12 in his college debut to help the 14th-ranked Musketeers open the regular season with a 74-63 victory over Morgan State on Friday night.
“I would say we were competitive on every possession,” said Lyons, who had six assists and just one turnover while falling 3 minutes short of playing the entire 40 minutes. “We played good without our senior point guard. My teammates put me in great position to score.”
Xavier overcame Holloway’s absence to win its 22nd consecutive regular-season opener. The Musketeers are 12-0 in season openers at the Cintas Center, where they will play their first four games of the season. Coach Chris Mack was happy to escape with a win while missing his key player.
“It’s a start,” he said. “Once you play that first game, it’s a roller-coaster that doesn’t end until late March or early April. We knew Morgan State was a quality opponent. I give our guys credit for playing without Tu. Lyons had a marvelous game. I thought he got a little too casual with the ball in the last four or five minutes.”
Kevin Thompson scored 14 points, 10 in the second half, and DeWayne Jackson and Justin Black each added 11 for Morgan State. Jackson scored all but one of his points in the first half.
Xavier center Kenny Frease had 10 points before fouling out with 4:21 left and Musketeer junior guard Brad Radford, a 3-point specialist who missed all of last season because of a torn ligament in his left knee, made two 3-pointers in the second half and finished with six points. His second 3-pointer gave Xavier its biggest lead, 65-47, with 7:14 left in the game.
Nine of the 10 Musketeers who played scored at least two points, impressing Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman.
“Coming in, we heard they had a lot of depth, and they did,” Bozeman said.
Holloway, a third-team All-American and the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year last season, was suspended for one game by the NCAA for participating in two leagues this past summer, when only one is permitted. The secondary violation was reported by Xavier in August.
Six Xavier fans standing in the front row of the student section had “Free Tu” written out in body paint on their chests.
Wells started his first college game and scored 10 points in the first half, eight while leading the Musketeers back from a 22-12 deficit to a 40-35 halftime lead. He made a 3-pointer from the left corner with 4 seconds left in the half.
“It was everything I thought it would be—the intensity, the speed,” Wells said of his first college game. “It was everything I thought it would be — and more. I was kind of nervous. I just was feeding off of Mark Lyons’ energy and letting my teammates get me involved in the game.”
He also turned in the most spectacular play of the game, soaring in from the right baseline to score on an alley-oop dunk off of Lyons’ pass from beyond the 3-point line on the left wing to help fuel Xavier’s comeback from that first-half deficit.
“Dez was phenomenal, but he had some freshman moments, too,” Mack said.
Wells was helped off the court with 9:04 left in the game after suffering cramps in his right leg.
Lyons made two 3-pointers while scoring Xavier’s first eight points and 10 of the Musketeers first 14 of the second half as they opened up a 54-37 lead. He finished with 14 points in the second half.