Xavier enters the Atlantic 10 tournament wanting to atone for losing in the semifinals three straight years. It may be an added bonus that its first game is against the last team to knock off the Musketeers.
After earning a share of the regular-season crown, No. 24 Xavier looks to put aside its recent poor history in this event Friday in Atlantic City, N.J., as it tries to hand archrival Dayton a damaging blow to its NCAA tournament hopes.
The Musketeers (23-7) won seven straight since a 90-65 road loss to the Flyers (20-11) on Feb. 6 to tie No. 17 Temple for the title. They are seemingly assured of a fifth straight NCAA berth but would like to end a disturbing trend of winning their first game and losing the next in the A-10 tournament.
“It’s definitely a motivating factor for me in my last go-around to get this Atlantic 10 championship,” said center Jason Love, the team’s lone senior. “I’ve been there three straight years, and I’d be lying to you if I told you I didn’t want to get to that championship game and hold that trophy up. I’ve seen it the past three years, guys hoisting that trophy. That’s something I want to do.”
Xavier is 4-0 against Dayton in the A-10 tournament, eliminating the Flyers in the quarterfinals in 2007 and 2008. Another such result would likely end the NCAA chances of a Dayton club that began the season with high expectations.
The Flyers were ranked 21st in the preseason and favored to win the A-10 before finishing seventh. They lost five of seven to close the season and were booed off the floor after Saturday’s 71-66 home loss to Saint Louis.
Dayton is trying to stay positive after advancing to the quarterfinals with a 70-60 victory over George Washington on Tuesday.
“I know our expectations are high and we haven’t met those yet,” coach Brian Gregory said. “Frustration levels will rise and I understand that. For our seniors to win 20 straight games in three straight years is an unbelievable thing.”
One of the few bright spots for Dayton was its rout of Xavier last month. The Flyers shot a season-high 56.4 percent and held a 42-24 rebounding advantage to avenge a 78-74 road loss Jan. 16.
Now it’s the Musketeers who want revenge.
“I hate to say any loss is a good thing, but I think our team kind of woke up in UD Arena that afternoon,” guard Dante Jackson said. “From that point forward, we’ve taken a look in the mirror and said we’ve got one of two ways to go, and we decided to go in the correct direction.”
Xavier has played outstanding defense since, limiting opponents to 40.1 percent shooting during this win streak. That’s complemented the A-10’s top-ranked offense in points per game (79.9) and shooting percentage (47.0) that features Indiana transfer Jordan Crawford, averaging 19.7 points to rank second in the conference.
The winner will face Richmond or Massachusetts in Saturday’s semifinals.