Bob Stevens

Frontcourt leads XU over Auburn, 85-61

Xavier stretched its winning streak to a school record 11 games to start the season with a 85-61 win over Auburn.

On a day where four top 10 teams lost to lesser opponents, No. 10 Xavier cruised to a school best 11-0 start by taking down Auburn 85-61 at the Cintas Center.

The Musketeers received a big lift from their frontcourt.

All three big men in their regular rotation scored in double figures. Jalen Reynolds led the way with 18 points and six rebounds. James Farr added a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds, and Sean O'Mara played a brilliant 14 minutes off the bench, finishing with a career-high 10 points to go with six rebounds. Also, Trevon Bluiett, who technically plays the four, finished tied for second on the team with 13 points, four rebounds and two steals.

Freshman point guard Edmond Sumner also had 13 points on 3-of-5 shooting from 3-point range, while adding six rebounds, five assists, a steal and two turnovers.

“It’s nice to make history while you’re here at school, a place that’s full of history,” Farr said of the school record 11-0 start. “But we’re nowhere near satisfied and we’re never going to be satisfied. We’ll enjoy it, but we know it means nothing right now.”

Considering No. 5 Iowa State lost to unranked Northern Iowa, No. 4 Kentucky lost to unranked Ohio State, No. 7 Duke lost to unranked Utah, and No. 9 Purdue lost to No. 17 Butler on Saturday; it’s safe to assume the Musketeers will be moving up in the polls again on Monday. The highest Xavier has ever been ranked is seventh (1997 and 2008).

“There’s still more history to be made,” Reynolds said.

The Musketeers were in control for the entire game Saturday.

Their lead reached 15 with 8:54 to play in the first half on a 3-pointer by Sumner off an assist from Bluiett. However, Auburn’s top scorer Kareem Canty cut the deficit to single-digits, 39-30, right before halftime. Canty finished with a game-high 25 points on 8-of-16 shooting, including 5-of-9 from 3-point range.

Reynolds, who has struggled with consistency this year, was engaged from the start as he scored 12 of his 18 points and grabbed five boards in the first half. He extended Xavier’s lead to 8-0 with a strong offensive rebound and putback at the 18-minute mark for his first points of the game. After a brief stint on the bench, he got back in on the action right away when Farr found him on a high-low pass that he was able to finish with an authoritative dunk.

The emotional junior said the Musketeers were anxious to avenge last year’s double-overtime loss at Auburn.

“It meant a lot to us tonight to get this win,” Reynolds said. “It just left a bad taste in our mouth the last time they got us. We just wanted to come out with a lot of energy and get the job done, and that’s what we did.”

Farr also got off to a strong start. After finishing 4-for-4 from the floor in the Crosstown Shootout last Saturday, he opened up the game against Auburn by making his first three shots from the field on a turnaround jumper in the lane, a baseline floater from just outside the paint, and a short corner jumper.

O’Mara checked into the game with 8:51 to play in the first half and immediately made his presence felt with a patient drop-step move on his first offensive possession. He went on to score four points and grab three rebounds (two offensive) during his three minutes and 32 seconds on the court in the first half.

“I kind of get minutes here and there, and as the season has gone on my role has kind of increased because obviously we’ve all been doing well,” O’Mara said. “But Jalen gets in some foul trouble in the first half, and I don’t think we really have a drop off, not only with me but with Makinde and Kaiser coming off the bench. All of these guys, we all battle against each other every day in practice, and I think that’s why we all go on the court and we do the same thing – we battle with whatever team steps in front of us.”

Bluiett got it going early in the second half and helped the Musketeers quickly pull away to a comfortable lead. He scored 10 of Xavier's first 15 points after intermission, knocking down a pair of threes in the process. He also locked down Auburn’s Tyler Harris, a 6-foot-10 skilled forward who was averaging 17.0 points and 9.1 rebounds coming into Saturday’s game. Harris finished with four points and four boards.

With the big lead, O’Mara got more extended run in the second half, and made good use of the opportunity. His highlight came with 11:29 to play when he worked Auburn’s Horace Spencer on a dribble-drive move that started at the top of the key and ended with a reverse-pivot move on the right block into the lane for a left-handed finish to push the Musketeers’ lead to 63-47. He remained aggressive on the offensive end; drawing fouls on the Tigers to add to his point total.

“He’s diligent when the shot goes up blocking out, he’s being strong with the ball… Sean just really knows when he gets in the game who he is,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “Sometimes that’s difficult for players. Every one of his teammates and every one of his coaches knows what he’s going to bring to the table when he gets in the game.”

It ended up being a rough half for Spencer, as Reynolds powered his way around the freshman big man for a highlight reel dunk with 8:33 to play for his final points of the night to make the score 68-50.

“If (Jalen) plays that way, and James continues to play the way he’s playing, and Sean O’Mara, who had his best game in a Xavier uniform today, plays the way he did; I’ll put our frontcourt up against anyone in the country,” Mack said.

Xavier won nearly all the statistical categories associated with post players, outscoring the Tigers 24-2 in second chance points and 32-26 in the paint. The Musketeers had a 42-26 advantage on the glass.

“We take it upon ourselves to be the best rebounding team against whoever we’re playing,” Farr said. “We don’t care if it’s Michigan State or Northwood. We want to be the best rebounding team and show that we have that toughness to gain a rebounding edge.”

Sumner’s fifth assist of the game found Myles Davis for a 3-pointer with 4:19 left on the clock that gave the Musketeers their biggest lead, 80-55.

Perhaps as impressive as Xavier’s big wins over Michigan, USC, Dayton, and Cincinnati; has been the Musketeers’ consistency in dominating their less-talented opponents during this 11-0 start to the season. This year’s team has figured out a way to show up ready to play for 40 minutes every game so far, regardless of location or opponent. If the Musketeers get off to a slow start on the offensive end or one of their leading scorers is having an off night, their intensity in other areas like defense and rebounding keep them in control.

“Our defense is so much better. It’s not even in the same stratosphere (as last year),” Mack said. “This team values that more than last year’s team did. Last year’s team learned to value it, but it wasn’t until the end of the year.”

Xavier beat Western Kentucky, Wright State and Auburn by an average margin of 30 points over this four-game home stand, which also included a 10-point win over Cincinnati.

The Musketeers will challenge their mettle away from the Cintas Center one more time against a quality opponent in Wake Forest on Tuesday before beginning Big East conference play at Villanova on New Year’s Eve.

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