CINCINNATI (AP)—The step ladders and scissors are stored conveniently near the court. The overhead confetti blowers are being loaded with shiny blue, silver and white paper strips.
Twenty-third ranked Xavier is one win away from cutting down the nets again, this time with a little history in each snip.
The Musketeers (22-6, 13-1) can win at least a share of their fifth straight Atlantic 10 regular-season championship on Wednesday night, tying the league record. A victory over Charlotte—the only team to beat them in the last 15 games—also would secure the top seed in the conference tournament.
“It’s a lot of good pressure, especially on the three seniors,” senior forward Jamel McLean said. “With the young guys coming in, you kind of want them to remember you as the team that won while you were here. They get a chance to feel what it’s like to win, so the legacy continues through them. It just keeps going on and on.”
At the start, it appeared this might be the season when the run ended. The Musketeers lost top 3-point shooter Brad Redford to a torn anterior cruciate ligament during preseason practice. McLean, their top front-line player, broke a cheek bone in an exhibition.
Plus, the Musketeers were going through a huge adjustment on offense without Jordan Crawford to take and make the big shots.
Suddenly, the Musketeers appeared vulnerable. They struggled through their opening games. Coach Chris Mack had to rearrange his substitution patterns and practices, trying to keep players fresh while giving them enough time on court to grow.
“It’s been an odd deal,” Mack said Tuesday. “We couldn’t necessarily go off the same road map we’ve had for years. The injuries are one thing and dealing with players at different positions, but also just trying to make sure we didn’t wear those players down. It takes me longer to plan a practice than to actually run a practice.”
Mack has made it work.
Temple is a game behind Xavier with two to go. The Musketeers won their head-to-head matchup and would get the top seed if they finish tied.
Massachusetts is the only other A-10 team to lead the league in wins five years in a row, doing it from 1992-96.
“Hopefully we’re going to get the ‘W’ and it’s going to be sweet to see the confetti fall from the ceiling,” senior Joe Hughes said. “We stick with our process and it seems to work out.”
The Musketeers talked among themselves about setting up another confetti-flowing ending. They needed to win at Dayton last Sunday to keep that one-game lead heading home. A 66-62 victory set up another home-court celebration.
“It all comes full circle,” senior Dante Jackson said. “We’ve been able to feel that way the past three years (at home). We’re 40 minutes away from feeling that again.”
There won’t be any worries about overlooking the 49ers. The Musketeers went to Charlotte on Feb. 2 and played one of their worst games of the season, losing 66-62. Point guard Terrell “Tu” Holloway went 3 of 17 from the field.
“Terrell didn’t play well,” Mack said. “I know when a kid like that loses, it eats at him. It eats at all our kids. So we’re going to be as competitive and as nasty as we can be tomorrow night.”
Charlotte (10-18, 2-12) has only one other conference win. The Musketeers have a chance to make up for their bad night with one they’ll remember for another year and beyond.
“It’s pretty ironic,” Jackson said. “I know as a team we’re locked in. We went down there and laid an egg. We really want to get them. We have to get them.”