No matter what the records may say, Xavier knows whenever they see Dillard it’s going to be a tough one.
Despite being separated by 11 games in the loss column coming into Saturday, the Gold Rush (17-6, 6-1 in the Gulf Coast Atlantic Conference) barely escaped with a 54-49 men’s college basketball win over Dillard in the Bleu Devil Classic at Dent Hall on Saturday night, extending its streak to 11 consecutive regular-season wins over the Bleu Devils.
“The years I’ve been here, it’s always been close,” said Xavier coach Dannton Jackson, who extended his record to 21-3 against Dillard. “Almost like a street fight, that’s what it was today. I thought Dillard did a good job of preparing for us, but it was a good win for our program.”
Dillard guard Houston Chatman scored on a putback layup to cut the Xavier lead to 52-49 with 25 seconds left, and after the ensuing possession ended with Xavier guard Gary Smith being called for an offensive foul, the Bleu Devils (3-18, 1-5) had an opportunity to tie the game late. Chatman got a good look at a corner 3-pointer with 20 seconds remaining, but it sailed long. Xavier guard Morris Wright grabbed the rebound and was fouled.
Wright (14 points) went to the free-throw line and knocked down both shots, clinching the win for Xavier in the 129th meeting between the two schools.
“We just knew we had to settle in on defense,” Wright said. “If we’re not scoring the ball, we’re always going to play defense regardless. No matter what the game looks like.”
Xavier, the No. 19 team in NAIA, began to put some space between themselves and the Bleu Devils early in the second half by upping their defensive intensity and forcing the Dillard offense into more mistakes. With 13 minutes left in the second half, Xavier forced turnovers on back-to-back Dillard possessions and immediately converted them into layups on the other end.
R.J. Daniels’ layup on the second steal gave Xavier a 44-34 cushion, their first double-digit lead of the game. But as it did the whole game, Dillard scratched and clawed its way back into it.
“The biggest thing for us was to get some stops,” Jackson said. “Early in the second half, we came up with some big stops. … We always talk about when we’re on the road, we have to play against three different groups of people (the other team, the opposing crowd and the referees), and that’s definitely what we did tonight.
“I’m glad our guys played with a lot of confidence down the stretch. They felt like they were going to win.”
Xavier players said they thought they could take advantage of the smaller Dillard front line, and they exploited it every opportunity they got.
The Gold Rush outscored Dillard 14-2 in the paint, and senior forward Sydney Coleman led the way, netting team highs in scoring (15 points) and rebounds (seven).
“Coach told us not to settle for jump shots,” Coleman said. “We just wanted to take it and pound it in the paint.”
After a slow offensive start put the Gold Rush in a early hole, it started playing more efficiently on the offensive end and began to separate it self from Dillard. Xavier put together a 10-2 run that was capped off by a Coleman dunk that gave it a 17-12 lead with 8:40 left in the first half.
The Gold Rush had opportunities to extend the lead, but struggled with several missed shots inside the paint, allowing Dillard to keep the score close. The Bleu Devils endured the Xavier run midway through the half and still managed to go into halftime trailing 26-24, despite being held to 33 percent from the field.
Jarrain Jenkins led Dillard with 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the field and grabbed four rebounds. Chatman scored nine points, but struggled getting good looks, making three of his 10 shots.