CINCINNATI (AP)—Seven minutes without allowing a point.
Of all the statistics from Xavier’s sixth straight win, that one made coach Sean Miller smile as much as he has in the last few days. His 24th-ranked Musketeers were back to playing stifling defense.
B.J. Raymond made his first five 3-point shots and finished with 20 points Saturday, and Xavier held Fordham to a season low in points during a 68-50 victory that was mostly satisfying.
Three days after Miller chastised his team for lackadaisical defense and demanded better, Xavier (14-3, 2-0 Atlantic 10) got another victory with a pair of runs set up by man-to-man pressure. The Musketeers took control by opening the second half with a 16-4 spurt.
“We won because we were very consistent with our effort on defense,” Miller said. “I don’t think we played a great game today, but what we’re looking for is consistent effort.”
Bryant Dunston had 19 points and 11 rebounds for Fordham (6-8, 0-2), which finished a rough week.
The Rams lost at Duquesne by 12 points on Wednesday night, then heard about Miller’s postgame rant following an 83-68 win over St. Bonaventure. Miller insisted that the Musketeers would play their very best in the next game, or take a spot on the bench.
Just what the Rams didn’t need.
Instead of sneaking into the Cintas Center for a noon game in front of a quieter-than-usual crowd, Fordham knew it would get Xavier’s best. None of the Musketeers so much as smiled during pregame warmups.
Those loud practices were still in their minds.
“It’s been tough, but our practices are tough,” point guard Drew Lavender said. “It wasn’t that much of a change. He just yelled at us more. We responded well.”
Even so, it took them a while to get down to business.
The 6-foot-9 Dunston, one of the A10’s top big men, helped the Rams take a 15-13 lead midway through a slow-paced first half. That’s when Xavier’s defense — the thing that drew Miller’s ire—finally dug in.
Fordham went the next 7:16 without a point. The Rams missed three shots, one of them an air ball, and had two charging fouls, a 5-second violation, a turnover and a shot-clock violation.
“It’s that wearing-down effect that good defensive teams have,” Miller said. “If you just stay with it, you can eventually break down an opponent.”
During that stretch, Xavier put together a 12-point run that featured consecutive 3s by Raymond, who’s had his touch lately. Raymond has gone 20-of-29 on 3-point attempts in the last four games, and was coming off a career-high 21 points against St. Bonaventure.
Raymond’s first 3 came from the right wing. The next one was from the left wing. He also hit from the top of the key and the corner.
“I told my dad I’m like a computer,” Raymond said. “It doesn’t matter where I shoot from, I’ll make a (high) percentage of them.”
His teammates have been making a special effort to get him the ball lately, knowing the shot is likely to go in.
“Right now, he’s just shooting the ball incredible,” Lavender said.
Still, it was a struggle for the Musketeers, who looked weary after two weeks of full-throttle wins over Delaware State, Kansas State, Virginia and Auburn. Xavier went more than two weeks without a break, and the strain was showing.
“We haven’t had any days off in the last 18,” Miller said. “We really couldn’t afford it.”
The Musketeers led only 32-26 at halftime. Then, it was a different story.
Recharged by the break, Xavier opened the second half with a 16-4 run built on defense. Fordham went 2-for-8 with a turnover during the pivotal stretch, which featured another 3-pointer and a three-point play by Raymond.
Xavier led by as many as 19 points in the second half.
Dunston had his fourth straight double-double. The senior also blocked three shots, to match Damon Lopez’s career record of 258.