CINCINNATI (AP)—A matchup of the Atlantic 10’s top two teams came down to the final minute. Lately, that’s been Xavier’s best minute.
Stanley Burrell scored 16 points and made a pair of clinching free throws with 13 seconds left Sunday, helping the 13th-ranked Musketeers hold on for a 76-72 victory over Saint Joseph’s.
Xavier (20-4, 8-1) solidified its hold on first place with its 12th victory in the last 13 games. This one wasn’t easy—the Musketeers blew a 14-point lead and had to rally in the closing minutes.
They scored the last eight points to pull it off.
“This team is so tough,” said Burrell, one of two senior guards. “We’re poised, too. In years past, we probably would have folded, we would have quit. We dug in and got that victory.”
Rob Ferguson scored 18 for the Hawks (15-7, 6-3), who had a turnover and missed a pair of shots in the final 20 seconds. Pat Calathes, the Hawks’ top scorer, was only 4-of-15 from the field for 16 points, a testament to Burrell’s defense.
“We just dug in and made all the right plays down the stretch,” Burrell said. “I’ve got scratches all over me and everything. They fought. We just had a little more in the tank.”
That’s becoming their way.
For the second game in a row, Xavier wasted a double-digit lead before pulling it out at the end. Derrick Brown’s tip-in with less than a second left beat Saint Louis on Wednesday night.
This time, Xavier wore throwback jerseys to honor its 1958 NIT championship team. It also gave away Drew Lavender growth charts, a tribute to the 5-foot-7 point guard who finished with 12 points and four assists.
His biggest play was a pass to B.J. Raymond for a 3-pointer that put the Musketeers ahead to stay with 45 seconds left and set up their second straight close victory.
“We’re learning,” Lavender said. “We’ve been in that situation before.”
Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli was impressed with how one of the league’s top defenses clamped down in the first half and then again when the game was on the line at the end.
“The thing that knocks me out about this Xavier team: The defense and their fierceness defensively,” Martelli said.
The Hawks were coming off what was by far their worst game of the season, a 102-88 loss at Duquesne on Wednesday that snapped their six-game winning streak. Center Ahmad Nivins sat out that game with a sprained right ankle.
Nivins was out for the opening tip on Saturday and made an early impact. The 6-foot-9 center had a pair of free throws and a close-up basket that helped the Hawks surge ahead 17-13.
That’s when Xavier’s versatility took over.
The Musketeers made 10 of their next 12 shots, everything from a backdoor dunk to a flurry of 3s. Seven players scored during a 26-8 run that put Xavier up 39-25. Five players hit 3-pointers, underscoring Xavier’s balance.
Nivins picked up his fourth foul less than two minutes into the second half. This time, the Hawks didn’t fold when he went to the bench.
Ferguson had a 3-pointer and a pair of close-up baskets during a 19-3 run that put the Hawks up 53-46. Calathes, who had only one basket in the first half, hit a pair of 3-pointers during the spurt.
Xavier had only one turnover during the first 19 minutes of the game. The Hawks forced five during their go-ahead run.
Josh Duncan and Burrell hit rapid-fire 3s that put Xavier up 65-62 with 6:12 left, setting up a back-and-forth finish. Nivins watched it play out from the bench after picking up his fifth foul with 4:17 to go.
“It was one of our best wins,” coach Sean Miller said. “So many different times in the second half we could have folded, and we just didn’t. A number of players made big plays.
“It wasn’t as much great execution or great defense. As it needs to be in February, it was just a lot of toughness and heart. You have to find a way to get through games like this and win.”
A three-point play by Duncan and the 3-pointer by Raymond from the left corner gave Xavier a 74-72 lead with 45 seconds to go. After Saint Joseph’s called a timeout, Darrin Govens lost the ball on a drive to the basket.
Burrell got the loose ball, was fouled by Calathes and made both free throws to clinch it.