Xavier led by seven points going into halftime of its Gulf Coast Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinal against Edward Waters College on Friday at Dillard.
However, the No. 2-seeded Gold Rush wasn't playing hard enough to suit coach Alfred Williams. That changed at the start of the second half, and Xavier shot to a 68-47 victory over the No. 7-seeded Tigers.
“We didn't make any adjustments in the second half,” Williams said. “We just came out with more fight, and that's the kind of intensity we're looking for. It was just effort and being locked in on what we needed to get done.”
Xavier (23-7), ranked No. 25 in the NAIA, advanced to Saturday's semifinals against No. 3 seed Talladega (20-10). Talladega defeated No. 6 seed SUNO 102-72. The Rush won both games this season against the Tornadoes, including Wednesday night at Xavier to get the tournament's No. 2 seed.
Spurred by guard Virgil Davison's 14 points on 4-of-5 3-point shooting, the Gold Rush shot out to a 31-16 lead by the 5:02 mark of the first half. However, the Tigers roared back behind guard Robert Thomas III to outscore Xavier 13-4 down the stretch and cut the margin to 35-28 at halftime.
Xavier, ranked in the top 10 in the nation in two defensive categories, jumped on the Tigers behind its defense to start the second half. The Rush outscored Edward Waters 17-4 in taking a 54-32 lead by the 12:34 mark.
Using pick-and-rolls with forward Joseph Williams and with Davison continuing to score, the Rush built a 62-37 margin with six minutes left.
Davison finished with 23 points on 7-of-11 shooting, including 5 of 8 on 3s.
In the other men's semifinals, No. 1 seed and 20th-ranked Dillard (18-9), which had a bye, will take on No. 4 Philander Smith. The Panthers beat No. 5 Tougaloo 85-75 in overtime. Ernest Maize had 20 points and 10 rebounds to lead Philander Smith.
No. 3 Xavier won its eighth consecutive game, 80-60, against No. 6 Tougaloo at Southern-New Orleans.
The Gold Nuggets (15-11) led 20-12 at the end of the first quarter, then broke the game open by going on a 17-4 run in outscoring the Bulldogs (10-17) 33-15 in the second quarter. Xavier shot 9 of 14 in the quarter, including 5 of 6 on 3-point attempts, in taking a 53-27 halftime lead.
Coach Bo Browder said he saw room for improvement, however.
“We've been shooting the ball well during this winning streak,” he said. “The first two quarters, we were outstanding. They played really good. The third and fourth, I guess you have to be tough mentally to have a lead and keep it going.”
Xavier will meet No. 2 Edward Waters in the semifinals. EWC slipped past No. 7 SUNO 63-54. The game was tied 42-42 at the end of the third quarter.
Dillard (21-5) also is the No. 1 seed on the women's side. The Bleu Devils, ranked No. 23, will play No. 4 seed Talladega, which beat No. 5 Philander Smith 86-78 at SUNO.
Talladega (20-10) is the defending tournament champion. However, the Tornadoes have a new starting five. They gave Dillard one of its three losses in the GCAC's regular season, as both teams won the home matchup.
“We beat Dillard by one at our place, and they blew us out at Dillard,” Talladega coach Kevin Herod said. “They are a very, very good team. We have to have high energy (Saturday).
“They have shooters, they play high-intensity defense, they know each other, and they find a way to win.”