CINCINNATI (AP)—The Atlantic 10’s long-awaited showdown came down to defense, and No. 23 Xavier had more of what mattered most, starting with Stanley Burrell.
The senior guard scored a team-high 13 points Thursday night and anchored a man-to-man defense that dug in from the opening tip and never let up, setting up a 69-43 victory over No. 16 Dayton.
“I thought tonight he really put it all together,” Xavier coach Sean Miller said. “He was the MVP of the game.”
Xavier (16-4, 4-1) pushed the lead to double digits in the opening minutes and was never threatened in its most lopsided victory over Dayton in nine years. The Musketeers had a 41-24 edge in rebounds, and held the Flyers to 30 percent shooting from the field.
“In this league, the best defensive team usually wins,” Dayton coach Brian Gregory said. “We’ve got to tighten up our defense quite a bit.”
It was the second straight loss for Dayton (14-3, 2-2), which sorely missed two injured forwards on offense. The Flyers couldn’t create an open shot for guard Brian Roberts, one of the conference’s top shooters.
Burrell hounded Roberts, who averages 20 points a game. He and another defender were nearby whenever Roberts got the ball and he finished 2-for-5 from the field for five points, a season low.
“I just wanted to speed him up and frustrate him all night long,” Burrell said.
Roberts has been fighting a respiratory illness, which sapped him in the first half. With the game out of hand, he took most of the second half off.
“I felt OK warming up, but once the game started, I got winded real quick,” Roberts said. “I couldn’t catch my breath. In the second half, I started cramping up.”
Marcus Johnson led Dayton with 12 points.
For only the second time in their 145-game series, both teams were ranked. This one matched Dayton, the A10’s most surprising team, against the one picked to win the conference.
Xavier is still the one to beat.
The rivalry has been one-sided lately. Xavier has won 13 of the last 16, including all three games last season. In Cincinnati, it’s been no contest. The Flyers have lost their last 23 games against Xavier in the Musketeers’ town, failing to get a win there since Jan. 10, 1981.
Dayton was missing two forwards to injury, including its top player off the bench. Charles Little, the conference’s top sixth man last season, broke a bone in his right foot during an 82-71 home loss to Massachusetts last week that ended the Flyers’ 13-game winning streak.
The Flyers already were missing Chris Wright, who had surgery last week for a broken right ankle. Glumly, both stood behind the backboard during pregame warmups, metal crutches propped under their arms.
“In fairness to Dayton, they’ve got two key guys out and Brian Roberts wasn’t playing as much in the second half,” Miller said. “That clearly doesn’t allow them to be the same team they’ve been.”
The Flyers had a full week after the UMass loss to regroup for the Xavier, which has the league’s most balanced lineup with six players averaging in double figures. They weren’t prepared for what happened in the opening minutes.
Dayton didn’t score a basket in the opening 7:14, managing only four free throws against one of the A10’s best defenses. The Flyers were 0-for-6 with five turnovers while Xavier pulled ahead 15-4.
Roberts went only 1-for-3 in the first half, his two points coming when Burrell was on the bench for a few minutes.
“I really credit Stanley Burrell,” Miller said. “No player I’ve coached was more ready for a defensive challenge that was enormous.”
Xavier struggled with its shooting as well, but pushed the lead to 36-18 by halftime, matching Dayton’s lowest-scoring first half of the season. The Flyers are second in the league in 3-point accuracy, but went 2-for-18 from behind the arc overall.
Burrell’s layup stretched the lead to 58-28 with 9:03 left, ending any thought of a comeback by the Flyers.
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