Even more, they were treated to a classic Tu Holloway performance with the senior willing Xavier to an 86-83 overtime win over Dayton to stretch the Muskies' win streak over the Flyers to 27 games in Cincinnati.
"It means a lot to us," Holloway said about the win. "I always hear it from the older guys that was around before how you can't lose to Dayton and the significance of the game - me and Andre Walker don't want to go out as the guys that messed the tradition up."
Holloway finished with 32 points, six rebounds and five assists, which was good enough to earn the Blackburn/McCafferty MVP honors for the game.
The All-American found a way to finish a runner, despite being fouled, with 11 seconds left in the game to put Xavier up by one. His ensuing free-throw made it 75-73.
After Dayton's Kevin Dillard tied the game on a drive to the basket with two seconds left to force overtime, Holloway scored seven of Xavier's 11 points in the overtime period to ensure a Muskie win. He finished the game 14-of-15 from the free-throw line.
"Tu made some unbelievable plays down the stretch," Xavier Head Coach Chris Mack said. "We made a conscious effort going into the game of taking him off the ball a little bit. We need him to score a little bit more for us to be the team we need to be offensively."
That wrinkle seemed to spark the Musketeers on offense, but their defense helped them jump out to a quick start.
The Musketeers, who have made a habit out of staring down a deficit at the first media timeout recently, including trailing Dayton 10-5 last time they played, came out with intensity and toughness on the defensive end. After giving up a layup to Matt Kavanaugh on Dayton's first possession, the Musketeers held them scoreless for over three minutes leading up to the first media timeout. Dayton turned the ball over on five of its first seven possessions.
Tu Holloway buried a three and an impressive floater after absorbing contact. Dez Wells had an acrobatic finish at the rim, and Mark Lyons, starting for the first time in four games, stole the ball twice from the Flyers.
After all of that, Xavier had a 9-2 advantage at the first media timeout.
"Number one, we recognized it was a big game," Mack said about his team's fast start. "Not that the other places weren't, but when you're playing in front of your home fans, there's an energy about you. You got your tails kicked by the team you're playing a few weeks ago. It's a big rivalry. Our kids were excited to play. I could tell that in the shoot-around today. Despite people thinking that we're an uninspired team, I beg to differ. I don't think we've played well at times, but we have kids that are competitive, that are warriors, that came out and played hard tonight."
With 9:14 left to play Xavier led 18-17, however after Kevin Dillard was fouled going up for a shot, Mack was called for a technical foul. Dillard made four straight free-throws to give the Flyers a 21-18 edge.
A few plays later, Lyons was hit with a technical, which gave Dayton two more points, and continued their run. They extended their lead to 25-18, the biggest lead for either team in the game, behind an 11-0 run that lasted until the 7:51 mark when Holloway found Andre Walker for a layup.
The Musketeers' successful start seemed to rely on playing faster and really pushing the pace, which was a possibility because of their defense forcing stops and turnovers. The refs really started calling the game tight, and whistled Xavier for 12 fouls in the first half. The mounting fouls, not only allowed Dayton to score at the free-throw line, but also slowed down Xavier's offensive pace, helping Dayton to go on their run.
"It affected our pace. We were a much faster team from defense to offense tonight, even on made shots by Dayton," Mack said. "When we got in foul trouble, guys had to play a little bit out of position from what we were working on in practice. It hurt us. Kenny, Travis and Mark getting in foul trouble in the first half really sort of slowed our pace down."
After finding themselves trailing 37-32 at halftime, a big 10-0 run for Xavier early in the second half recaptured the lead. Dez Wells led the charge for the Muskies. The freshman caught a lob in transition from Lyons, and then scored on the next possession with a baseline drive and a reverse layup. That forced Archie Miller to call a timeout with 16:39 left to play. A few plays later, Wells rebounded a missed three by Lyons and put it back in. Wells scored six of his 12 points during the run for Xavier and Walker chipped in with the other four, as the Musketeers took a 47-41 advantage.
In a game that featured 10 ties and 11 lead changes though, no lead was safe for long.
Both teams threw their punches, with star players making big shots. Holloway and Lyons led Xavier with 12 and 10 respectively in the second half, while Chris Johnson and Kevin Dillard made some huge shots to carry Dayton and keep them close.
The Musketeers rarely trailed in the second half, but Dayton did tie the game six more times, and even held brief leads around the 9:00 mark and with 28 seconds to play when Johnson gave the Flyers a 73-72 lead. Tha set up Holloway's big and-one that sent the game to overtime.
"I felt like it was a slugfest coming down the stretch," Mack said. "I thought both teams were extremely tired in the last couple minutes of regulation, the entire overtime and it was a little bit of a war of attrition out there - who could sort of hang on at the end."
Holloway and Lyons combined for 52 points, and looked more like the backcourt that was being touted as "best in the nation" earlier in the season, than the one that had recently struggled to the point that Lyons was removed from the starting lineup.
"When they're both on their game like I thought they were tonight, they can be as effective a tandem as there is in college basketball," said Mack about his backcourt duo. "They can be special if they continue to play together and play with the right attitude."
Dayton was led by Kevin Dillard's 20 points, and wings Chris Johnson and Paul Williams who both finished with 18 points. Williams was 4-of-9 from beyond the arc.
"Dayton's a very difficult team to defend. They spread the floor with some guys that can really shoot the three, and then when you add Matt Kavanaugh, who didn't play his best but still got the double-double, it makes it tough," Mack said. "Proud of our guys. We've taken a lot of heat here over the last few weeks, but we've got a resilient group and it was a good win for us."
Now the key for the Musketeers is keeping the momentum going, as they could still play their way into one of the last at-large bids in the NCAA tournament in a year that has a weak bubble according to experts.
It's a quick turnaround for Xavier though, as they travel to Amherst, Massachusetts to take on UMass Tuesday night. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.