Dec. 25, 2011
By Tom Weber
HONOLULU, Hawaii - No. 14-ranked Xavier made 36-of-48 free throws and held on for an 87-77 win over Southern Illinois on Christmas Day in the Diamond Head Classic.
The Musketeers (9-3) had little trouble breaking SIU's aggressive half-court traps, committing just 10 turnovers in the game. Once Xavier's guards defeated the traps, they frequently found an open teammate headed toward the basket.
"Southern Illinois presents a pressure-type defense where they get out in passing lanes," said Xavier head coach Chris Mack. "Sometimes, it's hard to move the ball against a team that denies it. We were very successful with that. I thought it was as good a game as we've played offensively all year."
The 48 free throws attempted by the Musketeers were the fourth-most by an opponent in school history for Southern Illinois and the most since Murray State attempted 51 against SIU in 1989.
"I attribute (the number of free throws) to ball movement," said Mack. "(Southern Illinois) really jumped on ball screens and we were able to get the ball to the second and third side of the floor, get defenders out of position, and create contact around the rim with our posts."
Guard Tu Holloway led Xavier with 21 points and seven assists. He was 14-of-15 from the line.
The Salukis (3-8) entered the tournament having not allowed an opponent to score 65 points in a game. Its three opponents -- Kansas State, Clemson and Xavier -- averaged 84 points against SIU's defense.
"Defensively, we saw a different-caliber athlete," said Saluki head coach Chris Lowery, whose team was whistled for 28 fouls today. "We saw better players. We have a lot of new guys in there making plays for us, that we feel down the road, we're going to be much better because of this tournament."
One of those newcomers was freshman Dantiel Daniels, who scored a career-high 22 points by making 7-of-8 shots from the field.
"As a true freshman, I don't think I've seen a game like that," said Lowery. "We're not talking about him scoring over little guys -- he was scoring over big guys. He finally showed his explosion today where he attacked the rim."
One area of dramatic improvement for the 6-foot-6 forward has come at the free-throw line, where he was 8-of-8 today and 14-of-16 for the tournament. The ability to make free throws makes him a more confident player, overall, he explained.
"If you're a bad free-throw shooter, you tend not to go to the rim as hard," Daniels said. "You know if you get fouled, they're going to expose you at the line. Fortunately, I found my stroke."
"We played really well with that lineup, and it helped us set the bench a little bit better with our rotation when we played big like that," Lowery said. (Xavier) is as good a rebounding team as Kansas State, and that was a major concern for us and why we changed the lineup."
SIU held a lead until the 10:50 mark of the first half when Xavier went on an 8-0 run. The Musketeers led by six at halftime, but Southern cut the deficit to 68-64 on a three-point play by Daniels with 8:45 remaining in the game. The dagger came at the 2:33 mark when Xavier's Mark Lyons hit a 3-point shot that extended XU's lead to 79-69.
"We didn't quit in any of these games," Lowery said. "We could have gotten smoked by Clemson or here today against Xavier, but we competed in every game."
Mack said he was impressed with Southern's offense, which entered the tournament averaging 59 points per game, but averaged 70 in three games against high-major opponents.
"I think Southern Illinois is probably a little better than their record," Mack said. "That's not coach-speak. They have so many guys playing now that weren't on the team or weren't eligible just 3-to-4 weeks ago. They've got some talent."