CINCINNATI (AP) — Xavier still is learning under first-year head coach Travis Steele, and maintaining defensive intensity for 40 minutes is something he continues to hammer home.
On Saturday afternoon in Cintas Center, Naji Marshall scored 14 points and Tyrique Jones, Ryan Welage and Zach Hankins each scored 11 lifting the Musketeers past Oakland 73-63.
Xavier Hill-Mais scored 22 of his team-leading 30 points in the first half. Braden Norris added 14 points for underdog Oakland which was within three points late in the second half.
“Our defensive effort needs to be a lot better,” Steele said. “We’ve got to fix it. I told our guys in the locker room, we put 40 minutes together one time this year, against Miami (OH). That’s not going to work.”
The Grizzlies got hot again from the perimeter. Karmari Newman’s third 3-pointer cut Xavier’s lead to 53-50 with 12:42 left.
Scruggs picked up his fourth foul with 8:32 left limiting the Musketeers’ defense. He fouled out with two minutes left.
It was still a two-possession game when Welage hit a 3-pointer with 39 seconds left to seal the win for Xavier.
“I don’t think we saw any progress going from the Miami game (on Wednesday) to today,” Steele said. “That’s disappointing.”
Oakland: The Grizzlies still are looking for more scoring production outside of Hill-Mais and Norris who score more than half of their points through eight games. They combined for 44 of the Grizzlies’ 63 points on Saturday.
Xavier: The Musketeers who blew a 19-point lead in a loss to San Diego State in the Maui Classic earlier this month, nearly blew an 11-point lead in the second half on Saturday when Oakland rallied to within three.
Xavier was without sophomore guard Elias Harden on Saturday due to illness. Harden is 8 of 17 from 3-point range making him a valuable option off the bench. He is expected to return to practice on Monday.
The Musketeers prepared to guard Norris but he still went 4 of 6 from three-point range on Saturday to improve to 19 of 24 for the season.
“We left him open for rhythm threes,” said Steele. “It happened first play of the game. He’s an elite level shooter. You have to be there on the catch. When you give guys like that good looks early, they gain confidence.”
While Oakland got most of its points from Hill-Mais and Norris, the Musketeers had six players in double-figures. Kyle Castlin, a grad transfer from Columbia, scored 10 points for the first double-figure scoring game of his Xavier career. It’s the first time Xavier has had six players in double-figures since Jan. 13, 2018 against Creighton.
Oakland plays at Fairfield on Thursday.
Xavier hosts Ohio on Wednesday to conclude a three-game homestand before playing at crosstown rival Cincinnati on Dec. 8.
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