Xavier-S. Illinois Preview

The Associated PressDecember 24, 2011

While Xavier entered last weekend as one of the top teams in the country, it certainly hasn't played like one since then.

On the verge of their longest losing streak in 12 seasons, the No. 14 Musketeers face Southern Illinois in the seventh-place game of the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu on Sunday.

Xavier (8-3) opened with eight consecutive wins and was ranked eighth, but could be at risk of falling out of the Top 25 altogether with another upset loss to close this tournament.

The Musketeers have dropped three straight following a bench-clearing brawl at the end of a 76-53 win over Cincinnati on Dec. 10. Star guards Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons were given one and two-game suspensions, respectively, while promising freshman Dez Wells and reserve guard Landen Amos were handed four-game bans.

That leaves the Musketeers, who haven't lost four in a row since Jan. 11-25, 2000, at less than full strength until Dec. 31 against Gonzaga.

After an embarrassing 64-42 loss to Oral Roberts last Sunday and a 68-58 defeat to Long Beach State in the opening round of this tournament Thursday, Xavier suffered a devastating 84-82 overtime loss to Hawaii on Friday.

Holloway scored 26 and Lyons - in his first game back - had 18 for Xavier, which blew a 15-point lead in the second half and lost on a basket with 0.8 seconds left in overtime.

"We struggled defensively in the second half," coach Chris Mack said. "We're struggling offensively. We got some open looks we didn't knock down. This was as disappointing a game for as long as I've been around."

Holloway is the Atlantic 10's second-leading scorer at 18.4 points per game and Lyons is fourth at 17.4, but Wells certainly appears to be missed. He totaled 27 points in the two games before his suspension, and the Musketeers averaged 74.5 points. They've averaged 59.0 in regulation during the three-game skid.

Though things certainly aren't looking up for Xavier, a matchup with Southern Illinois (3-7) could be just what it needs to get back on track. The Salukis are averaging a Missouri Valley-worst 60.8 points on 37.3 percent shooting, and they've dropped five straight versus ranked opponents by 17.0 points per game.

One day after losing 83-58 to Kansas State for its most lopsided defeat of the season, Southern Illinois fell 83-75 in overtime to Clemson on Friday for its fourth loss in five games away from home. The Salukis led by eight with under four minutes remaining and held a three-point advantage with six seconds to go in regulation.

"If we just show a little more maturity and patience from that four-minute mark down, then the game's over," coach Chris Lowery told the school's official website. "We have to grind them out, make them pay at the end of the shot clock."

Mamadou Seck scored a team-best 18 points while Justin Bocot had 15 in his second game back following a suspension for breaking team rules.

"We're slowly getting better (inside) and we have to keep throwing it in there, because they're going to make plays," Lowery said.

"Now that we have everybody back, it's time to build the team around that."

The Salukis took the only previous meeting in this series, 75-65 on Dec. 22, 1972.