Xavier is off to its best start in conference play since 2007-08 and in the Top 25 for the first time all season.
The 24th-ranked Musketeers will look to continue their quest for at least a share of a fifth consecutive regular-season Atlantic 10 championship when they visit Saint Joseph’s on Wednesday night.
Xavier (18-6, 9-1) moved into sole possession of first place in the A-10 with a 71-63 victory at Duquesne on Sunday thanks in large part to another impressive offensive display from guard Tu Holloway.
Holloway, leading the conference with 20.7 points per game, recorded 15 of his 20 points in the second half and also had seven rebounds.
“In games, I’m more aggressive in the second half,” said Holloway, who was named to the Naismith Trophy midseason watch list Friday. “(In) the first half, I try to allow my teammates to get in a little rhythm, and the second half, I feel like when the game is close, is my time for me to try to take over the game.”
Dante Jackson, a senior guard, matched a career high with 19 points versus the Dukes while making 4 of 6 from 3-point range.
While his teammates carried the offense, sophomore Mark Lyons was held to six points on 1-of-7 shooting Sunday after averaging 17.7 in his previous seven games. Lyons registered his highest scoring output of last season with 19 points in an 88-52 win over Saint Joseph’s on Feb. 17.
The Musketeers have won 10 of 11 overall, and while coach Chris Mack is pleased with his team’s recent stretch, he has bigger goals in mind.
“It means we’ve done a really good job in the first 10 games of the conference season,” Mack said of the team’s ranking. “But the season’s not over, success is never final.
“I’m happy for our kids because I think they’ve worked really hard, but it’s not the end (and) we’re continuing to get better. We’re building towards trying to play for a championship.”
Saint Joseph’s (7-17, 2-8) enters Wednesday in search of a season high-tying third consecutive win, and Mack knows Xavier can’t afford to overlook the 13th-place Hawks.
Guards Carl Jones and Langston Galloway are averaging a combined 29.9 points for Saint Joseph’s.
“They have very talented guards,” said Mack. “Obviously, they haven’t had they type of season that they’re accustomed to, (but) they’ve won their last two conference games so they’re certainly playing better right now.”
After making 6 of 6 from long distance en route to a season-high 25 points in a 67-64 win Feb. 5 over Massachusetts, Galloway scored 25 again Sunday as Saint Joseph’s overcame a 16-point second-half deficit to defeat Fordham 76-70 on the road.
The freshman guard earned A-10 rookie of the week honors for the second consecutive week.
The Hawks have lost 18 of 20 versus ranked opponents - including nine straight by an average of 13.7 points - but their only two wins came against Xavier.
Saint Joseph’s defeated then-No. 8 Xavier 71-66 on March 6, 2008, then recorded a 61-53 victory over the 10th-ranked Musketeers eight days later.
The Hawks have still lost four of the last six in the series.