Despite boasting one of the best scoring margins in the nation, No. 8 Xavier has mastered the art of the narrow victory in recent games. The Musketeers will look to extend their winning streak to seven games - and do so a little more comfortably - as they visit Northern Iowa on Friday night.
Three days after escaping with a two-point home victory over East Tennessee State, Xavier nearly squandered all of a 23-point lead - losing three players to injury in the process - before holding on to defeat visiting Marshall 81-77. With J.P. Macura sidelined with blurry vision and Kaiser Gates out of the lineup due to dizziness, the Musketeers were forced to do without two of their key starters - and losing freshman Naji Marshall after a nasty fall late in the first half didn’t help matters either. “For us, it’s a great win for our team to say, ‘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,’” head coach Chris Mack said afterward. “I don’t know how many teams can battle through that, so we’ll take it.” Northern Iowa is off to a strong start but saw its three-game winning streak halted last time out in a 76-65 loss to rival Iowa State.
TV: 9 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network
ABOUT XAVIER (11-1): If all the injury problems weren’t enough of a challenge for the Musketeers, they also had to settle for a subpar effort from scoring leader Trevon Bluiett (20.4 points per game), who tied a season low with 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting against the Thundering Herd. Macura and Gates are questionable for Friday’s game; they combine to average 21.6 points and 9.7 rebounds, while both players shoot at least 80 percent from the free-throw line. Xavier remains one of the most dominant teams in the nation, ranking 15th with a plus-17.7-point scoring margin despite back-to-back nail-biters.
ABOUT NORTHERN IOWA (8-3): Bennett Koch has been a revelation for the Panthers in his senior season, averaging a team-best 14.1 points and contributing 7.7 rebounds - well ahead of his previous collegiate bests of 11 points and 3.8 boards. But Koch has struggled mightily since putting together a 30-point effort in a 77-68 overtime win over UNLV, scoring a combined 18 points in three games since - including a four-point clunker against Iowa State last time out. Juwan McCloud (10.5) and Klint Carlson (10.1) provide the complementary scoring, while Tywhon Pickford pulls down a team-best 9.6 rebounds.
1. Xavier enters the game ranked fourth in the country in field-goal success rate (52.2) and free-throw percentage (79.8).
2. Bluiett has scored a combined 28 points over his last two games.
3. Northern Iowa has attempted just 170 free throws through 11 games; only 34 Division I teams have taken fewer foul shots.
PREDICTION: Xavier 85, Northern Iowa 77