CINCINNATI — Xavier ripped a page right out of Wake Forest’s playbook on the way to a convincing 68-53 win on Saturday.
Matt Stainbrook scored a season-high 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, helping Xavier to a 50-34 advantage on the boards against one of the nation’s best rebounding teams, and the Musketeers rolled to victory over the Deacons.
“A lot of it was being a tough team defensively,” Stainbrook said about outrebounding a team that went into the game eighth in the country with an average of 43.6 rebounds per game. “Our guards did a good job of rebounding down.”
James Farr added 13 points and Semaj Christon finished with 12 for the Musketeers, who led by as many as 22 points while holding the Deacons to their lowest point total of the season. Wake Forest set the previous low in a 59-51 win over UNC Greensboro in its last game on Dec. 21.
Codi Miller-McIntyre led the Deacons with 11 points and Coron Williams added 10 – all in the first half.
“We knew they like to run,” said Stainbrook, who posted his third double-double of the season. “Miller-McIntyre is a guy you need to corral in transition. Overall, we focused on keeping them a half-court team and boxing out.”
Before a crowd of 10,064, the Musketeers set a season-high in rebounds on the way to finishing their non-conference schedule with a 10-3 record, their best since going 11-2 in the 2008-2009 season. They will take a five-game winning streak into their first Big East Conference opener, which is scheduled for noon Tuesday at home against St. John’s.
“Going into the Big East with a win is very positive for our team,” said junior guard Dee Davis, who led both teams with seven assists and 36 minutes.
Xavier coach Chris Mack, while proud of his team’s non-conference record, was ready to move on.
“On to the next challenge,” said Mack, who logged his 100th career win as Xavier’s coach. “You can really lose your way while you’re looking in your rearview mirror or reading your press clippings.”
The Deacons (10-3) also set a season-low with their .358 shooting percentage (19-of-53) while seeing their winning streak snapped at four games in their first game of the season on an opponent’s home court and last non-conference game of the season. They are scheduled to open Atlantic Coast Conference play on January 5 at home against No. 19 North Carolina.
Besides allowing more rebounds by an opponent than in any other game this season and being outscored, 36-22, in the paint, Wake Forest also finished 5-of-15 on 3-pointers after missing its last seven, which didn’t surprise coach Jeff Bzdelik.
“I didn’t like the way we started,” he said. “Five of our first seven shots were 3-pointers. That’s fool’s gold. I was displeased with the way we started off. When you’re coming down and jacking up shots, it’s not good.”
The first game for both teams since Dec. 21 was the fourth of a 10-year series between the two schools honoring the late Skip Prosser, who coached Xavier before taking the Wake Forest job. He died of a heart attack at the age of 56 in 2007.
After five ties and eight lead changes, Xavier ended the first half on a 20-3 run, holding the Deacons without a field goal for the last 9:30 of the half. Christon started the run with a 3-pointer, giving the Musketeers a 25-24 lead, and scored eight points during the Xavier surge.
Wake Forest committed turnovers on eight consecutive possessions during that stretch.
“That helped (Xavier) go on a 16-0 run,” Bzdelik said. “That was the ballgame. We were overmatched inside. Their big man had a great game. That stretch where we turned the ball over eight straight times really hurt us.”
Mack could find several reasons for Wake Forest’s woes.
“It was probably a combination of factors,” he said. “They’re a young team playing their first true road game, and we wanted to make sure to be active on defense and pressure their passes.”