Xavier has been lacking a true point guard in its starting lineup. Drew Lavender was excellent in that role against Virginia last season, and the Musketeers are now banking on a freshman to replace him.
After Terrell Holloway helped lead a strong performance on offense, the 22nd-ranked Musketeers look to dominate the Cavaliers for the second straight year when the teams meet Saturday.
Xavier (10-2) had lost two straight, averaging 64.5 points in losses to then-No. 6 Duke and Butler. The Musketeers’ sluggish play prompted coach Sean Miller to insert Holloway in the starting lineup against Robert Morris, and they responded by shooting 52.1 percent in a 78-57 win on Wednesday night.
It was the first career start for Holloway, a freshman and the only true point guard on the roster, and he finished with six points and a season-high five assists.
“Sometimes you have to take inventory and say, ‘What decision can we make that could raised our ceiling, help us be where we want to be in February?’” Miller said. “Terrell is our only true point guard. He can get better.”
Holloway was gaining a bigger role each game before he suffered a stress fracture in his left foot, forcing him to miss two games in late November and early December. He has been working back into form from the injury, which has limited his practice time.
Holloway is averaging 7.1 points and shooting 89.4 percent from the free-throw line.
With Lavender leading the way, Xavier blew out Virginia (6-4) 108-70 last Jan. 3. Lavender, who was a senior, finished with eight assists and the Musketeers shot 63.8 percent.
But the Cavaliers appear to be vastly improved on defense this season, holding three straight opponents to 61 points or fewer before winning their ACC opener 88-84 in overtime against Georgia Tech on Sunday night.
Xavier will need a strong inside presence to match up with Virginia, and is hoping sophomore forward Jamel McLean is over his slump.
McLean had a career-high 11 rebounds against Robert Morris after he had a total of six his previous three games, a slump that became a focal point for the coaching staff in recent practices. McLean opened the season with a 10-rebound effort against Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne and followed that up with nine boards versus Missouri six days later.
“It was brought to my attention that I haven’t been the same person,” McLean said. “The coaching staff showed me on film what I had been doing. It kind of lit a fire.”
Sylven Landesberg, a freshman guard, had been one of Virginia’s top rebounders, averaging 5.8 boards. But he also leads the Cavaliers with 19.1 points per contest, and was named the ACC’s rookie of the week Tuesday.
Landesberg had 26 points, six rebounds and five assists against Georgia Tech. The Cavaliers will now try to win three in a row for the first time since opening the season 3-0.
Virginia won its only other meeting with Xavier 85-65 on Dec. 29, 1971.