Rhode Island 79, Xavier 71
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP)—Jimmy Baron and Kahiem Seawright scored 17 points apiece to help Rhode Island defeat Xavier 79-71 Friday night in the Atlantic 10 tournament semifinals and snap a 12-game losing streak against the Musketeers.
It was the first time Rhode Island (19-13) had defeated Xavier since a 69-68 win on Feb. 24, 1998.
Rhode Island’s win virtually assures the Atlantic 10 will send at least two teams to the NCAA Tournament. Xavier (24-8) is considered a safe pick, while Massachusetts (23-8), a quarterfinal loser Thursday, is not as certain.
Rhode Island will face George Washington, a 60-40 winner over Saint Louis in the other semifinal game, in Saturday’s championship game. This will be the Rams’ first appearance in the Atlantic 10 tournament final since 1999, when they won on Lamar Odom’s last-second shot against Temple.
Drew Lavender led Xavier, which had its nine-game winning streak snapped, with 18 points and Justin Doellman added 13.
Rhode Island led 68-64 with 2:20 remaining when Baron, the fifth-most accurate 3-point shooter in the country at 48 percent, drove the lane and missed an underhanded scoop shot. But he followed his own miss and tapped home the rebound to give the Rams a six-point lead.
Seawright made three foul shots down the stretch to help seal the win.
Xavier had looked poised to create a cushion early in the second half when Doellman drove and scored and was fouled to give the Musketeers a 46-41 lead. But he missed the foul shot and Baron buried a 3-pointer to tighten things up, and they stayed that way until Rhode Island pulled away in the final two minutes.
Rhode Island led by as many as eight points in the first half before getting sloppy and letting Xavier pull even and eventually retake the lead.
A 3-pointer by Parfait Bitee gave the Rams a 21-13 lead with 8:42 left, and when Rhode Island switched to a zone defense it appeared to throw off Xavier momentarily. But the Musketeers regrouped and used their own defensive pressure to subdue the Rams.
Steals on three consecutive possessions sparked a 7-0 run that erased a 27-21 Rhode Island lead, and back-to-back driving layups by Stanley Burrell and a follow by Justin Cage in the final minutes gave Xavier a 34-33 lead at the break.