Gates, Macura carry No. 21 Xavier over No. 16 Baylor
CINCINNATI — The Xavier Musketeers did some soul-searching following Friday’s loss to Arizona State in Las Vegas. The Musketeers’ focus in practice over the next three days was on their defense, and they responded Tuesday night against a tough Baylor squad.
Kaiser Gates scored a career-high 19 points and J.P. Macura also scored 19, lifting No. 21 Xavier to a 76-63 victory over No. 16 Baylor before a sellout crowd of 10,503 at Cintas Center.
“Man, Baylor’s good,” said Musketeers head coach Chris Mack. “That’s a great win for our program. Baylor presents a different challenge than Arizona State. Hopefully it’s a lesson learned for our guys. Really happy for our team.”
Next up for Xavier (6-1) is the annual grudge match against crosstown rival and 11th-ranked Cincinnati at noon ET on Saturday.
But, coming off a 102-86 loss to the Sun Devils, the Musketeers needed a more determined effort on defense to add another quality win to their resume.
Xavier point guard Quentin Goodin responded to Mack’s challenge with nine assists and no turnovers on Tuesday. He also scored six points and was much better on defense than he was in Vegas.
“All we did at practice when we got back from Vegas was defense,” Goodin said. “I feel like we played with a lot of pride on defense and it showed. Just being mentally and physically ready for screens, everything.”
Baylor (5-1) was led by Terry Maston, who scored 15 points off the bench. Manu Lamonte and Mark Vital each scored 11 points for the Bears, who nearly rallied from a 14-point deficit.
“This is a great game for us,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew. “You get better playing these games. Xavier’s a great program. Nobody likes to lose, but we’ll learn and get better.”
Baylor did a good job keeping Trevon Bluiett at bay, holding him to 10 points, more than 11 below his average. Mack said Blueitt’s back tightened up on the trip back from Vegas, but the hot shooting of Macura and Gates, and 10 points from freshman Naji Marshall, carried the Musketeers.
“That’s what makes you a great team, when you have multiple weapons,” said Drew.
Xavier created good looks on offense early in Tuesday’s game; a pair of 3-pointers by Gates and one by Macura helped build an 11-4 lead.
Xavier began the game by making 5 of 8 attempts from 3-point range and led by as many as 13 points in the first half.
“In a road game, you don’t want to get down early and let the crowd get involved, and that’s exactly what we did,” Drew said. “Xavier came out and got in transition early. We dug ourselves a hole.”
Eight Musketeers turnovers helped keep Baylor close in the first half.
It was another slow start for Bluiett, who went without a field goal until his layup with 6:40 remaining in the first half. He had four points at halftime.
Maston, meanwhile, carried much of Baylor’s scoring load in the first half with 15 of the Bears’ 34 points. He averaged 11 per game coming into the game.
Macura banked in a long 3-pointer just before the halftime buzzer, putting Xavier ahead 39-34.
“That was a big 3-pointer by Macura, from a momentum standpoint,” Drew said.
Baylor kept Bluiett in check well into the second half, but the Musketeers maintained their lead. Two free throws by Marshall and a layup by Goodin pushed Xavier’s lead to 53-43 with 11:55 left.
After having eight turnovers in the first half, the Musketeers did not turn the ball over for the first seven minutes of the second half. But a steal and layup by Vital during a 13-4 run cut Baylor’s 12-point deficit to 61-56 with 7:26 left.
Bluiett scored four straight points to push the lead back to nine, and Xavier held on.
“Going through it was tough, but I’m glad we won in the manner that we did,” Mack said. “You get up 12 or 13 and it gets all the way down to three or four. Good teams are able to overcome adversity.”
NOTES: Xavier has won 34 straight non-conference home games dating to the 2012-13 season. ... Baylor has beaten 18 ranked teams over the past three seasons and had won 21 straight regular-season non-conference games. ... Baylor leads the series 3-1, including a 76-61 victory last season in Waco, Texas.