CINCINNATI (AP)—Before it took the court as a nationally ranked team for the first time in 11 months, No. 23 Xavier thought about what happened the last time it reached such heights.
The Musketeers want to stay around longer this time.
Stanley Burrell scored 15 points in a tone-setting first half, and Xavier used one crushing run after another to beat Oakland 93-68 on Wednesday night for its fourth straight win and its first as a ranked team.
“We’ve been there four times since I’ve been here,” said Burrell, a senior guard. “And every single time we’ve lost our next game or two after that. We’re trying to stay in there for awhile now.”
The Musketeers (5-1) pulled into the Top 25 after using a 23-point run to crush Coppin State, then pulling off double-digit victories over Kent State and then-No. 8 Indiana over the weekend in the Chicago Invitational Challenge.
Xavier showed its stuff during a 51-point first half fueled by a man-to-man defense that has dramatically improved in the last two weeks.
“We’ve been doing a great job,” said Burrell, who has developed into Xavier’s top perimeter defender. “Everybody’s locked in on that, knowing the offense will take care of itself.”
Once the Musketeers got rolling, Oakland (2-4) couldn’t slow them down. Xavier went on 16-2 and 21-2 runs in the first half, when it led by as many as 26 points.
“I credit our players for coming into this game mentally ready and sharp,” coach Sean Miller said. “We set the tone in the first half with our offense.”
The Grizzlies have dropped consecutive games against nationally ranked teams. They lost 75-71 to No. 10 Michigan State on Saturday, but couldn’t stay close to Xavier after the opening minutes.
Burrell’s defense was a key to Xavier’s 80-65 victory over Indiana, limiting freshman guard Eric Gordon to 4-of-12 shooting. This time, he made the pivotal shots in the first half and finished with 17 points.
“Sometimes he’ll come our more aggressive on defense than offense,” Miller said. “Tonight he set the tone for our team. He’s really a total team guy now, and every one of his teammates benefits from it.”
Josh Duncan led five Xavier players in double figures with 18 points and eight rebounds. The senior forward has been more aggressive inside this season.
“Just trying to be an all-around player and work on all parts of my game,” Duncan said.
Johnathon Jones scored 17 points to lead Oakland, which blocked nine shots but got little from its top scorers. Leading scorer Derick Nelson had 14 points, but was only 3-of-12 from the field. Guard Brandon Cassise came in averaging 17.8 points per game, but was limited by Burrell to one field goal and two points.
“Even though I’m happy with how I played offensively, seeing that Cassise had two makes me feel better,” Burrell said. “Coach told me I had to take him away. I took that on my shoulders.”
The Grizzlies are known for their shot-blocking prowess, having already swatted away a school-record 14 in one game this season. They blocked two in the opening minutes, helping them pull ahead 4-0.
That was the end of their feel-good moments.
Burrell scored six points in a 16-2 run that put Xavier in control. Oakland went 1-for-3 with three turnovers during the spurt. Burrell then had a 3-pointer and a three-point play during the 21-2 run that helped Xavier pull ahead 51-33 at halftime.
Point guard Drew Lavender led a 12-point run that opened the second half, hitting a floating jumper and two free throws. B.J. Raymond’s 3-pointer completed the run and gave Xavier its biggest lead to that point, 63-33.