Bills Dominate Second Half, Subdue Xavier 70-59
ST. LOUIS - Saint Louis blitzed Xavier with a 24-3 run to begin the second half, and the Billikens went on to defeat the Musketeers 70-59 Tuesday night in an Atlantic 10 Conference battle at Chaifetz Arena.
The victory assured the Billikens (23-6, 11-4 A-10) of being no lower than the No. 2 seed for the A-10 Championship. SLU, which concludes the regular season Saturday at Duquesne, trails first-place Temple by one-half game. The Bills have won seven of their last eight games.
Saint Louis swept the season series from Xavier, which fell to 18-11 overall and 9-6 in the A-10. The Bills captured a 79-68 victory in Cincinnati Jan. 25.
Senior forward Brian Conklin scored a game-high 23 points, just two short of his career high, to lead the way in his Chaifetz Arena finale. Conklin, who tallied 15 points in the second half, tied his career high with nine free throws (9-of-10) as the Billikens went 20-of-24 (83.3 percent) from the stripe. He added six rebounds.
Kwamain Mitchell netted 14 points, while Mike McCall Jr. collected 10 points, a career- and team-high seven rebounds and a game-high-tying four assists.
Mark Lyons led Xavier with 19 points. Dezmine Wells had 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Kenny Frease chipped in 10 points and six boards.
The Billikens held Xavier leading scorer Tu Holloway (16.9 ppg) to four points.
Xavier led 39-29 at the break and tacked on a free throw early in the second half for an 11-point advantage. That's when Saint Louis went to work, scoring on seven consecutive possessions in a 15-0 spurt that put the Billikens ahead to stay.
Dwayne Evans sparked the run with a reverse layup, and McCall buried a 3-pointer from the left corner following two offensive rebounds.
Conklin hit a short jumper in the lane, and Mitchell's trey from the right wing made it a one-point contest. Conklin's layup with 15:12 to play gave the Bills a 41-40 edge, and the senior forward finished the run with a free throw and a 10-footer off the glass for a 44-40 Saint Louis lead.
Lyons finally scored Xavier's first field goal of the second half at the 13:15 mark, but SLU registered the next nine points to take command. Conklin scored four of the nine with a jumper and two free throws, McCall Jr. drained a triple from the left wing, and Evans connected from the right elbow to give the Bills their first double-digit cushion, 53-42.
Frease scored on Xavier's next two possessions to make it a seven-point game, but the Musketeers drew no closer. McCall Jr. sank two technical-foul free throws and Evans added a pair from the line in a four-point possession that restored SLU's 11-point margin. The Billikens led by no fewer than nine the rest of the way.
Powered by 3-pointers from Wells and Lyons and a three-point play by Travis Taylor, Xavier jumped out to a 13-4 lead.
The Billikens pulled even with a 9-0 spurt. Conklin began the run with a layup, and McCall Jr. made a steal and a layup. Mitchell drilled a 3-pointer, and Jordair Jett's steal and layup made it 13 apiece.
Xavier received scoring from five different players in a 15-5 flurry that put the Musketeers on top 28-18, but the Billikens responded with an 11-5 run.
A Rob Loe free throw and Mitchell's trey cut the Xavier lead to 28-22. After the Musketeers scored on consecutive possessions to re-establish a 10-point cushion, Mitchell registered a three-point play, Jett hit a short baseline jumper and Conklin sank two free throws to slice the XU lead to 33-29.Wells nailed a 3-pointer to steady the Xavier ship, and the Musketeers added three free throws to lead 39-29 at intermission.