CINCINNATI (AP)—Every win by No. 23 Xavier follows the same pattern.
Someone else leads the balanced offense. The other team’s top scorer can’t find an open shot. The lead reaches double-digits in a matter of minutes. Then, it’s time to move on to the next opponent.
Stanley Burrell scored a season-high 18 points Saturday night, and Xavier turned up the defensive pressure and beat Belmont 90-49 for its fifth straight victory, one that closely resembled the last few.
“Same old deal,” Burrell said. “We go out and do it. We do the same thing every night.”
The Musketeers (6-1) got another solid game from Burrell, a senior guard who has transformed himself from primarily a shooter into an all-around player. He led a balanced offense that features six players averaging double figures, and helped shut down senior guard Justin Hare, Belmont’s most dangerous player.
Belmont (5-3) returned to the city where it opened the season with a stunning 78-65 victory over Cincinnati on the Bearcats’ home court. Hare led the way in that one with a game-high 23 points.
That opening victory was one of three early upsets by Atlantic Sun Conference teams, including Gardner-Webb winning at Kentucky and Mercer winning at Southern California. The Bruins added another signature road win on Nov. 19, beating Alabama 85-83 on Hare’s pull-up jumper with 2.2 seconds left.
It didn’t take Hare and the Bruins long to realize things were going to be a whole lot tougher on the other side of town.
B.J. Raymond added 15 points for Xavier. Josh Duncan played despite a stomach virus and matched his career high with 10 rebounds.
Shane Dansby scored 10 points as the only player in double figures for Belmont, which shot a season-low 26.6 percent from the field. Hare, who leads the Bruins’ offense at 15.3 points per game, went only 3-of-12 for seven points.
“We take pride in our defense,” Raymond said. “Our intensity is what we key on. We get a stop and then another stop.”
Those stops tend to lead to fast starts.
Xavier opened with a 16-6 run that showcased its balanced and its gritty defense. C.J. Anderson had a pair of close-up baskets to complete the tone-setting run. Belmont went 3-for-10 with five turnovers during the opening minutes.
“Our intensity is at a whole different level now,” Burrell said. “We know coming out of the locker room that we’ve got to set the tone and put them away.”
Raymond hit back-to-back 3s that started a 16-5 spurt and put Xavier up 41-25 at halftime. Raymond scored a team-high 12 points in the half, and Duncan had seven rebounds.
Belmont coach Rick Byrd benched all five of his starters in the early minutes of the second half, a move that didn’t make much of a difference. Burrell hit a 3-pointer, made a pull-up jumper and had a driving layup that made it 56-32, Xavier’s biggest lead up to that point. That’s when Byrd put all five starters back in the game.
Burrell made back-to-back 3s as Xavier pushed the lead to 30 points, then started substituting and looking ahead. Up next is Creighton, a team that has manhandled the Musketeers and won their last three games.
“They’ve physically beat us up,” coach Sean Miller said. “We play them on their terms and we lose. That absolutely can’t happen on Wednesday. It’s as big of a game as we’ll play all season.”
Those three losses to Creighton were setbacks that took the Musketeers a long time to get over. In some ways, they’re still not over them.
“We didn’t forget,” Burrell said. “We’re definitely looking forward to this game. I can’t wait for them to get here. We’re 0-3 against them since I’ve been here.”
Belmont fell to 1-11 against ranked teams. Its only such victory was 71-67 over No. 23 Missouri on Dec. 30, 2003.