Xavier edges Evansville in renewal of old Ohio River rivalry
Semaj Christon scored 19 points and rallied Xavier from a 13-point deficit in the second half to a 63-60 victory over Evansville on Tuesday night in the renewal of an old Ohio River basketball rivalry.
Christon led a 23-8 run that got Xavier (7-3) ahead. He went only 3 of 14 from the field but was 13 of 17 from the free-throw line, a place where he had struggled all season, making only 56 percent.
Evansville (6-4) had a shot to tie, but D.J. Balentine's long 3-pointer with two defenders in front of him went off the back of the rim in the closing seconds. Matt Stainbrook got the rebound to seal it, finishing off his second double-double of the season with 10 points and 15 rebounds.
Balentine finished with 15 points but was only 2 of 7 from beyond the arc.
The game renewed an old rivalry with a notable connection.
The Aces and the Musketeers contended for titles in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference for 15 years. Xavier coach Chris Mack was a two-year starter at Evansville until 1990, when he transferred home and played for Xavier. The schools hadn't played since 1994.
Neither team got into an offensive flow early, resulting in five lead changes and four times in the first 10 minutes. Center Egidijus Mockevicius had a pair of layups and two free throws during a 10-point run that gave the Aces a 24-15 lead.
Balentine came in averaging 24.9 points per game, fourth nationally. The sophomore guard missed his first four shots before making a layup that pushed the lead to 29-19 with 4:10 left in the half.
Xavier couldn't do anything against Evansville's packed-in half-court defense, with its front line repeatedly missing contested layups. The Aces led 32-25 at halftime, the fewest points the Musketeers had in an opening half this season.
Evansville led even though Balentine had only two points on 1-of-6 shooting. Mockevicius had a game-high nine points and four rebounds at the half, but picked up his fourth foul with 10:08 left in the game.
Balentine's long 3-pointer beat the shot clock and made it 43-33 with 14 minutes left, his first basket after three misses from beyond the arc. The Musketeers were getting outplayed all around, with the Aces shooting 50 percent from the field and leading in rebounds 24-19.
The Aces led by as many as 13 points before Christon asserted himself, making a three-point play, a driving layup and five free throws during a 15-6 spurt that cut it to 54-53 with 6:41 left.
Dee Davis completed the comeback by hitting a long 3-pointer as the shot clock ran out for a 57-56 lead with 5:01 to go, Xavier's first lead since midway through the first half.
Balentine missed both free throws with 1:08 left and the score tied at 58. After Justin Martin's layup put Xavier up 62-60, Balentine drove the baseline and Martin blocked his shot, with Christon getting the loose ball. He was fouled and made one of two free throws. Evansville called timeout with 5.5 seconds left to set up the final shot by Balentine.