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Long Beach St.-Xavier Preview

AP - Sports

The absence of three suspended starters figured significantly as Xavier suffered its first defeat of the season. The most valuable of those players is expected back on the court in the next contest.

Star guard Tu Holloway returns from suspension Thursday night, looking to help the No. 14 Musketeers bounce back from one of the worst losses in school history when they face Long Beach State in the opener of the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii.

Holloway, shooting guard Mark Lyons and freshman forward Dezmine Wells average a combined 44.5 points, 12.2 rebounds and 8.5 assists, but they could only watch as Xavier (8-1) was blown out 64-42 by Oral Roberts at home Sunday.

The three players were serving suspensions for their roles in a brawl at the end of a 76-53 win over crosstown rival Cincinnati on Dec. 10. Without them, Xavier played just eight players and shot a season-low 32.7 percent - including 1 for 11 from 3-point range - en route to its worst home loss since an 80-49 defeat to La Salle on Jan. 23, 2000.

"It was a tough week for our program, even tougher (with Sunday's game),'' coach Chris Mack said. "It's been a lot to process. We've never been a team that makes excuses.

"It's disappointing. From tough times, tough people last, and we certainly have to get better and improve."

While the Musketeers will get Holloway back, Lyons has one game left on his suspension and Wells' punishment will keep him out of the three-game tournament.

Holloway's presence alone, though, should give the Musketeers a major boost. Among the top point guards in the country, Holloway is averaging 17.6 points, 4.9 assists and 2.4 steals - all team highs. He's averaged 19.5 points during his last four games.

Holloway's return could spark a return to form for Kenny Frease. The 7-foot center had 13 points and 13 rebounds against Cincinnati but was held to a season-low four on 2-of-9 shooting with five boards versus Oral Roberts.

"I really struggled," Frease told Xavier's official website. "It is the first time I've played without Tu. People step up every day, I wasn't able to do it."

Frease and Holloway will be counted on to step up for the Musketeers, who make the approximate 4,400-mile trip to Honolulu as the only ranked school in the eight-team tournament field.

Even with Holloway, Xavier could be in for a serious challenge against a Long Beach State team that's facing its fifth Top 25 opponent this season. The 49ers (5-5) won 86-76 at then-No. 9 Pittsburgh on Nov. 16, and were competitive while falling 79-66 at Louisville on Nov. 28, 88-80 at Kansas on Dec. 6 and 84-78 at North Carolina on Dec. 10.

"We don't feel like we're the Washington Generals,'' Long Beach State coach Dan Monson said. "We feel like we can play in these games."

Senior guard Casper Ware is averaging a team-leading 17.5 points on the season and 21.5 during the four games against ranked opponents. He scored 29 and shot 12 of 24 at North Carolina, and had 28 points while making 10 of 18 shots at Pitt.

The winner of this contest will play Auburn or Hawaii on Friday.

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