CINCINNATI (AP) — Xavier got a little closer to full strength, staying perfect in the process.
Point guard Dee Davis returned from a sprained wrist, and Semaj Christon scored 18 points on Saturday, leading the Musketeers to a 70-63 victory that kept them perfect in the Atlantic 10.
Xavier (11-6, 4-0) had won its last three games without Davis, who sprained his left wrist in the first half of a 57-52 win over Temple. He returned on Saturday and had six points and seven assists in 23 minutes even though the wrist isn’t fully healed.
“I’m just happy to be out there, really,” Davis said. “During the game, I didn’t’ really think about it much. I tried not to think about it.”
Brad Redford added 13 points for Xavier, which has won four in a row for the first time this season.
“It means a lot to start off conference play 4-0,” Redford said. “We want to be at the top of the conference at the end of the year, and a lot of people picked us to be closer to the bottom.”
La Salle (12-5, 2-2) is off to best start since the 1990-91 season. The Explorers have the league’s top scoring duo in guard Ramon Galloway — 17.1 points per game, second in the A-10 — and guard Tyreek Duren at 15 points per game.
The two guards had trouble against the A-10’s second-stingiest defense, combining to go 6 of 26 from the field. Tyrone Garland led the Explorers with 16 points.
“Their guards definitely were a point of emphasis for us,” Redford said. “It wasn’t one guy; it was the whole team. We packed it in, which made it tough on them.”
The Musketeers have won without Davis by getting big games from Redford, who scored 21 and 17 points in the two previous games while making 15 of 25 from behind the arc. They also kept up the tough defense. Xavier is giving up only 60.8 points per game, second in the A-10.
La Salle got a scare when Galloway pulled up and grabbed his right hamstring with 12:15 left in the first half. He went to the sideline and stretched, and was still favoring the leg when he checked back into the game following a timeout a minute later. It didn’t affect his shooting — he hit another long 3-pointer for a 20-9 lead midway through the half.
From there, the Explorers fell apart, getting only two more field goals the rest of the half. Their top two scorers started forcing shots that were off the mark.
“Daren and Galloway didn’t get the looks they were getting earlier in the season,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “That’s why they were taking the shots that they were.”
Redford got Xavier’s offense going, hitting a pair of 3s and a pair of free throws. Christon’s pull-up jumper from the baseline completed a 16-5 spurt that tied it at 25. Jeff Robinson had three dunks in the final 2 minutes of the half for a 35-27 lead. The Explorers managed only three free throws in the final 6:52 of the half.
“They made their run and we didn’t respond well,” La Salle coach John Giannini said. “They were tougher than us. We need to have the ability to dig deep. I wish that I could point to one thing, but the body language told me they were tougher than we were.”
The field goal drought lasted more than 10 minutes overall. Christon’s driving layup pushed the lead to 39-28 before Steve Zack’s follow-up basket finally got La Salle a field goal at the 16:26 mark of the second half.
Xavier wasted chances to take control, missing 10 of its first 17 free throws.
Christon’s two free throws made it 56-41 with 6:37 left, and the Musketeers pulled ahead by 18 points before emptying their bench, allowing the Explorers to close the gap in the closing minutes. Giannini got a technical for arguing calls late in the game.
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