CINCINNATI — A short bench and pesky foe didn’t stop No. 9 Xavier from beating Marshall 81-77 in a non-conference home finale Tuesday night.
The injury-depleted Musketeers led by as many as 23 points before Marshall roared back in the second half, pulling within two possessions with 21 seconds left. C.J. Burks’ 3-pointer made it a five-point game.
Kerem Kanter made two free throws to help Xavier prevail. A 3 by Jon Elmore at the buzzer ensured the final margin.
Xavier played without starters J.P. Macura (blurred vision) and Kaiser Gates (dizziness). Freshman Naji Marshall, who was moved into the starting lineup, took a hard fall near halftime and did not play the second half.
Season scoring leader Trevon Bluiett tied a season low with 10 points.
“For us, it’s a great win for our team to say, ‘Hey, your best player isn’t going to play very well. You’re going to sit two guys that don’t play one minute, and then a guy that fills in for them doesn’t play in the second half.’ I don’t know how many teams can battle through that, so we’ll take it,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said.
Kanter led Xavier with 16 points and 13 rebounds.
Tyrique Jones added 14 points and 11 boards for Xavier while Sean O’Mara and Quentin Goodin chipped in 14 points each as Xavier (11-1) foiled the Thundering Herd’s bid to claim a first Top 10 win since 2006.
Although Marshall (8-4) entered the game with the nation’s eighth-ranked offense (90.2 points), Xavier held the normally frenetic juggernaut to a season-low 27 first-half points.
A 15-0 run near the game’s start provided Xavier with initial separation.
“That was partly them but partly us. We were nervous. We had freshmen out there. If you have one or two leaks against this team, it’s tough,” Marshall coach Dan D’Antoni said.
Ajdin Penava had 25 points and nine rebounds for the Thundering Herd. He scored just nine points before the break, playing abbreviated minutes due to two fouls.
“He goes out, we go on a little bit of a run. Well, he was in the entire second half and we could never really get him in foul trouble and go at him like we did in the first half,” Mack said.
Led by Penava and Burks, who scored 14 of his 18 points after halftime, Marshall mounted a comeback bid. A 10-0 run set the tone, but the Musketeers persevered despite 29.2 percent second-half shooting and a shrinking lead.
The Herd chipped away significantly in the last 10 minutes. Xavier, playing with unusual personnel combinations, struggled to establish consistency.
“We wanted to make sure we were playing our way, we were playing our style. I think you could see it a little bit at the end, especially. We were a little confused on what we were running and what we were trying to do,” O’Mara said.
The Musketeers made 23 of 26 free throws and controlled the rebounding battle 46-31 en route to the victory.
Elmore entered the game averaging 24.2 points, good for third place in Division I, but finished with 16. He added nine assists.
Marshall’s four-game winning streak was snapped by Xavier, its only ranked opponent thus far. The Thundering Herd shot 35 3-pointers throughout, making 11.
Xavier finished its non-conference home slate with a 9-0 record including back-to-back wins over ranked Baylor and Cincinnati teams. The Musketeers also capped a six-game home stand on a high note and extended their non-conference home winning streak to 39.
Marshall returns to campus for a four-game home stand against Eastern Kentucky, Southern Miss, Louisiana Tech and Western Kentucky. The Thundering Herd are 7-0 at home.
Xavier travels to Northern Iowa for Friday’s non-conference finale. The Musketeers are 1-0 in true road games thus far, beating Wisconsin in Madison in November.
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