CINCINNATI (AP) — No second-half slump. No. 13 Xavier held on tightly to this lead, right to the finish.
J.P. Macura emerged from his shooting slump by scoring 18 points, and RaShid Gaston helped No. 13 Xavier get the edge up front against the nation’s top rebounding team, leading the Musketeers to a 77-69 victory over Utah on Saturday.
The Musketeers (8-2) were coming off back-to-back road losses that featured long scoring droughts in the second half. Xavier’s balanced offense built a 15-point lead in the first half, and the Musketeers stayed ahead the rest of the way.
“We’ve dropped two in a row by taking our foot off the gas pedal in the second half,” Gaston said . “We wanted to keep the pressure on and finish down the stretch.
“After you take two losses back-to-back, there’s not much that needs to be said. You approach it with the right mentality — by any means necessary, you’ve got to get the win.”
Gaston had 11 points and 14 rebounds, helping Xavier to a 33-28 edge on the boards. The Utes (6-2) came in averaging 47.7 rebounds. Gaston had nine points and 10 rebounds — one less than Utah’s total — in the first half.
“RaShid has always been tough,” said guard Malcolm Bernard, who had 11 points. “He’s a bull down there, for real. His offense doesn’t get as much credit as it needs to get.”
Macura was 5 of 7 from beyond the arc after going only 2 of 16 in his last three games. Trevon Bluiett also scored 18 points, hitting all six of his free throws in the final minute as Xavier closed it out.
“Down the stretch, we just have to be a smarter team,” coach Chris Mack said . “Maybe we just haven’t been in that situation enough. We’ll get better.”
Freshman Devon Daniels had a career-high 19 points for the Utes , whose two losses have been against ranked Big East teams. They also lost to Butler at home.
“That was our first true test on the road,” coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “I had to see how we would respond. We need consistency. We have different guys having good games, but not many back-to-back. It is usually someone different every night.”
Utah: The Utes’ top two scorers — Kyle Kuzma and Tyler Rawson — were a combined 2 of 10 for five points in the first half as Xavier took control. Kuzma finished with 11 points — his second-lowest total of the season — and Rawson a season-low three.
Xavier: The Musketeers went through long second-half scoring droughts during their losses. Utah opened the second half with an 11-4 spurt but couldn’t get any closer.
The Musketeers figure to slip in the Top 25 based upon their 68-66 loss at Colorado on Wednesday, but limited the damage with their win on Saturday.
BAD LUCK STATE
The Utes fell to 0-5 in the state of Ohio, also losing twice at Ohio State and twice at Cincinnati.
Xavier hasn’t lost three in a row since 2013-14, its first season in the Big East.
FROM THE LINE
Xavier shot only 66 percent from the free-throw line in its two losses. The Musketeers hit all 10 of their free throws in the final minute against Utah and finished 15 of 21.
Utah hosts Prairie View A&M next Saturday, and then closes nonconference play the following week in Hawaii as part of the Diamond Head Classic.
Xavier plays the first of four straight home games leading into Big East play, hosting Wake Forest next Saturday in the Skip Prosser Classic.
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