Xavier knew it had to improve defensively after last month’s loss at Dayton. The Musketeers were able to do so immediately, and now they’re a win away from clinching at least a share of their third straight Atlantic 10 regular-season title.
Xavier closes out its home schedule Thursday night against the Flyers, who haven’t won on the road in this series in 23 games.
The 17th-ranked Musketeers (23-5, 11-3) continued their run of outstanding defense in a 68-54 victory over St. Joseph’s on Thursday. Xavier, which snapped a three-game slide on the road, has held teams to 37.4 percent shooting and 56.3 points per game in winning three of its last four.
The current stretch started after a 71-58 defeat to Dayton on Feb. 11, when the Flyers shot 50.0 percent from the field.
“We got our road nastiness back,” said Xavier junior Derrick Brown, who had 18 points and 10 rebounds Thursday and became the 46th player in program history to reach 1,000 points. “We were just trying to get it back in time and I think we’re in the right direction.”
The Musketeers are giving up 62.7 points per game and 38.6 percent shooting on the season.
They can secure at least a share of the conference crown with a victory Thursday, but a loss would create a three-way tie for first place with Dayton and Rhode Island. The Rams host Massachusetts on Saturday afternoon in their regular-season finale, while the Flyers return home to face Duquesne that night.
“It says a lot (of our players) and our program,” said Xavier coach Sean Miller, whose team ends its regular season Saturday night at Richmond.
Senior B.J. Raymond will play his final game at the Cintas Center on Thursday after scoring 18 points and grabbing six boards against the Hawks. Raymond is six points away from joining Brown in the 1,000-point club, but he went 1-for-6 from 3-point range and finished with 12 points in the Feb. 11 loss.
Senior C.J. Anderson had just three points in that defeat, but he’s averaging 12.3 points on 48.0 percent shooting in his last three games.
The Musketeers will be going for their 24th straight conference victory at the Cintas Center, but they’ll be facing a Dayton team that’s allowing 60.4 points per game and 39.3 shooting.
The Flyers (24-5, 10-4) snapped a two-game slide Saturday, beating Temple 70-65. They’ll be trying to end a much longer skid at Xavier, as their last victory there came Jan. 10, 1981.
Dayton needs one victory to surpass the 1953-54 team for most wins in a season in school history.
On Saturday, the Flyers improved to 11-1 this season in games decided by five points or fewer behind Chris Wright’s season-high 20. The sophomore forward had a team-high 19 points, including the Flyers’ final nine, as they ended a six-game losing streak to Xavier last month.
Marcus Johnson had 14 points and five boards versus the Owls. The junior guard scored a career-high 26 points in a 74-65 loss to Xavier on March 13 in the quarterfinals of the A-10 tournament.
The Musketeers have won 15 of the last 19 in the series.