Xavier’s 70-62 Senior Night victory against Southern-New Orleans signalled to point guard Whitney Gathright that the Gold Nuggets are coming around at the right time.
It also told her the Nuggets have some work to do as the end of the season and the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference approaches. Xavier nearly blew a 17-point halftime lead before turning back the Knights in the game’s final minutes.
“In the first half, we were able to get a big lead because our defense was really good,” said Gathright, a senior point guard. “We know them, who their shooters are. In the second half, we made mistakes defensively, and they were able to come back.”
The victory kept Xavier (17-9, 5-4) in second place in the GCAC race and gave it the season’s sweep against SUNO (9-12, 4-6) which had beaten the Nuggets four times in row before this season.
Xavier won in large part because of 28-of-35 free-throw shooting, including making its first 22 in a row. Gathright, who led Xavier with 18 points and nine rebounds, was 12-of-13 from the line. Senior forward Donyeah Mayfield had 14 points, six rebounds and four blocks for Xavier.
SUNO was 13-of-19 on free throws. The Knights were 3-of-5 in the first half when Xavier led 45-28.
“They were attacking the basket much more than we were, and we weren’t moving our feet well defensively,” said senior guard Rayvin Miller, the only returning player off the Knights’ GCAC championship last year.
Miller, who scored a game-high 25 points, led SUNO’s second-half comeback with 19 points, including 3-of-3 3-point shooting. She scored 14 points in the fourth quarter, as the Knights continued to chip away and came to 63-58 with 3:39 left.
However, freshman Kiera Robinson, who scored six points down the stretch in Xavier’s win at SUNO on Feb. 1, was big in the clutch again. Robinson re-entered the game right after the Knights pulled to five points, and had a putback at the 2:42 mark, then went back door on a give-and-go play with Mayfield that extended the lead to 67-58.
Mayfield then followed with two free throws with 1:13 showing, and SUNO didn’t get closer than seven the rest of the way.
The Gold Nuggets took control from the start, taking an 11-5 lead on the way to a 27-12 bulge at the end of the first quarter. Xavier made all 17 of its free throws and dominated the boards 24-14 in building its 17-point halftime lead.
In the men’s game, SUNO held Xavier to 5-of-23 shooting (21.7 percent) in the second half in taking a 77-72 victory, snapping a six-game losing streak.
“Our (1-2-2) pressure defense helped in the second half, but I though the key was we didn’t led (Xavier guard) Morris Wright take over the game,” SUNO coach Dale Valdery said. “We didn’t make turnovers down the stretch like we did the first time we played them (Feb. 1) them. I’m happy for the players that they were able to end the losing streak.”
It was the Knights’ first win at Xavier since 2012. SUNO (7-14, 2-8) outscored Xavier (17-10, 4-5) in the final 3:26.
Guard Dominique Suggs scored a career-high 27 points to lead four Knights in double figures. Guard Gary Smith led the Gold Rush with a career-high 24. Leading scorer Wright had 18.
Xavier had shot 71.4 percent and outscored SUNO 27-8 the last 7:06 of the first half in taking a 46-40 halftime lead.