Less than two weeks ago, Xavier was undefeated and beginning a stretch of games that seemed to favor it staying that way to begin Atlantic 10 play.
Now, the 14th-ranked Musketeers find themselves trying to avoid their first three-game losing streak in more than seven years.
After the return of Tu Holloway couldn't help, Xavier hopes Mark Lyons can provide a spark when the Musketeers take on Hawaii in the consolation bracket of the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu on Friday.
Xavier was 8-0 when an ugly brawl at the end of a 76-53 win over crosstown rival Cincinnati on Dec. 10 led to the suspensions of Lyons, Holloway, freshman forward Dez Wells and little-used reserve Landen Amos.
Without all four, who combined to average 44.5 points, 12.2 rebounds and 8.5 assists,Xavier suffered a 64-42 loss to Oral Roberts at home last Sunday, shooting 32.7 percent while playing with only eight players available.
Even the return of Holloway couldn't spark a stagnant offense, as the Musketeers fell 68-58 to Long Beach State on Thursday. Holloway finished with 17 points in 40 minutes, but Xavier was down 16 early in the second half and couldn't complete a late rally.
Holloway was held to three field goal attempts and five points in the first half. Of his 17 points, 12 came in the final 12 1/2 minutes with the 49ers already ahead by a comfortable margin.
Coach Chris Mack hopes the end of Lyons' suspension will help get the offense going. Lyons is averaging 17.4 points and is 13 for 30 (43.3 percent) from 3-point range. He's also contributing 3.8 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.4 steals per game.
"That's nothing new. But when (Holloway) doesn't have a couple of running mates that take a little pressure off and are able to get to the rim easier maybe than the guys we have on the floor tonight, that's the game plan,'' Mack said. ''But hopefully as we start to welcome these other guys back, we'll be a little tougher team than to key on one guy on the perimeter.''
Wells and Amos will miss the last two games of the tournament.
While their season has changed quickly, Mack insists there is no panicking. Xavier hasn't lost three in a row since Nov. 30-Dec. 18, 2004.
"We've got competitive kids," Mack said. ''They know it's a long season. We have the ability within 24 hours to feel a lot better about ourselves because of the tournament format. We've got to come out tomorrow night and quickly feel better about ourselves.''
The Musketeers will face another quality opponent in Hawaii (5-5), which had its three-game winning streak snapped with a 65-62 loss to Auburn on Thursday. Leading scorer Zane Johnson had 18 points and six rebounds, but the Rainbow Warriors trailed most of the way, taking their first lead with 8 seconds left. The Tigers scored on the next possession with 3 to go.
Hawaii is facing its second ranked opponent this season. It lost 73-54 to then-No. 22 Gonzaga on Nov. 19.
Xavier's only previous meeting against Hawaii was a 70-58 win in the 2002 NCAA tournament.
The winner will take on either Clemson or Southern Illinois on Sunday for third place in the tournament.
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