PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Xavier took first place in the Atlantic 10, then earned its first national ranking of the year. May as well celebrate by punishing Saint Joe’s.

Mark Lyons scored 24 points, Kenny Frease had 17 points and 10 rebounds, as #24 Xavier beat Saint Joseph’s, 74-54, on Wednesday night.

The Musketeers (19-6, 10-1 Atlantic 10) are the team to beat again in the conference, winning four straight games and 11 of 12 overall with five games left before the conference tournament.

With a spot in the Associated Press’ college basketball poll this week, Xavier made it the fifth straight seasons reaching in the Top 25.

“I don’t think a number in front of our team name on the ticker changes things,” coach Chris Mack said. “I think they’re mature enough to understand you’re really judged on the entire season, what happens at the end.”

Lyons will get them deep into March with more games like this one. He kept driving past the Hawks for easy layups and fell one shy of his career high for points. He set the tone for an Xavier team that took few outside shots in the second half. Xavier attacked for buckets and made 17 of 18 free throws.

The Musketeers used a 12-1 run in the second half to pull away from the Hawks (7-18, 2-9).

“We have a good offense, but defense is what we do,” Lyons said. “It gives us the best chance to win games.”

Idris Hilliard led the Hawks with 13 points.

The Hawks, who shot 39 percent in the first half, made only two baskets in the first 13½ minutes of the second.

Lyons made 10 of 14 shots and grabbed six rebounds for Xavier. Saint Joe’s had no way to slow him down or keep him off the glass. He scored on consecutive uncontested layups, then followed with a pair of free throws in the second that stretched the lead to 66-47. That spurt came shortly after the game-changing run that put the Musketeers ahead 19 points.

Xavier’s Tu Holloway, who leads the team with 20.7 points, was scoreless until he was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 0.9 seconds left in the first half. He sank all three free throws and the Musketeers took a 34-27 lead into halftime.

Saint Joe’s coach Phil Martelli was fuming and broke free from assistants who tried to restrain him to scream at the refs. The Hawks did have one final chance, but CJ Aiken missed a wide-open layup as the clock expired.

“That was big momentum,” Mack said. “Going from up four to up seven and getting the ball out of halftime was big.”

Saint Joseph’s guard Patrick Swilling did not play because of a violation of the school’s code of conduct. Junior center Todd O’Brien was not with the team due to a failure to comply with the university’s community standards.

Saint Joseph’s will conduct a judicial process to determine their future with the team.

Martelli called it a school issue that he was made aware of on Tuesday.

The rough stretch keeps going for the Hawks with a game on Sunday at No. 23 Temple.

“I don’t leave here with my head up, I leave with my head down,” Martelli said.

All the bad news on Hawk Hill had nothing on a touching moment before tip.

Lenny Martelli, a high school student who was paralyzed from the chest down after a snowboarding accident, walked to center court with Phil Martelli. Lenny Martelli was injured Feb. 15, 2010, and his family eventually reached out to the coach — no relation — to see if he’d could talk to the injured teen. The SJU coach made a promise to Lenny if he walked again, they’d walk out together before a game.

Players on both teams stood and applauded when Martelli walked out using only canes for his left arm (see extended coverage story and video).  Martelli sat at the end of Saint Joseph’s bench near the Hawk mascot known for always flapping its wings.
“This is about people,” Phil Martelli said. “This has always been about people.”

(Copyright 2011 by the Associated Press.  All rights reserved.)

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