No. 19 Xavier sharpens focus for Siena

No. 19 Xavier will bring a lesson in commitment into its second game of the season Friday night against visiting Siena in Cincinnati.

"Our guys have to learn how to play 40 minutes, not just play 25 or 26 minutes," coach Travis Steele said after the Musketeers rolled past Jacksonville 76-57 in their season opener Tuesday.

Xavier built a 54-24 lead five minutes in the second half before the Dolphins rallied to cut the deficit to 14 points, forcing Steele into a bad mood and a timeout with 4 1/2 minutes remaining.

The victory never seemed in doubt, yet there was the rest of the season to think about.

"For the teams that are on our schedule, we have to play 40 minutes," Steele said. "We can't take any possessions off if that's what our identity is. You can't pick and choose. It's who you are."

Team leaders Naji Marshall and Tyrique Jones scored 17 points apiece against Jacksonville, and Jones had 11 rebounds for his 12th career double-double while also drawing two charging fouls.

Marshall, the preseason Big East Player of the Year, added six rebounds and a team-high four assists, and 6-foot-9 freshman Zach Freemantle had 11 points and five rebounds.

And about that late timeout ...

"He (Steele) always tells us never cheat the game," Jones said. "The game is 40 minutes, so he just wants us to play a whole 40 minutes. If we do that, then I don't think he's going to call timeouts like that.

"It brings a different excitement when you have a coach who's into it."

Xavier limited the Dolphins to 41.1 percent shooting and turned their 18 turnovers into 18 points. The Musketeers had eight "kills," one kill equaling three consecutive defensive stops. An in-house analysis shows that Xavier has won 98 percent of its games with at least seven kills since they began tracking the stat in former coach Chris Mack's first season in 2009.

"As you can see, it's working for us on the floor," Marshall said. "All of us, we all commit on the defensive end. It's not about just one person. I think that's where we kind of went wrong last year. It's about the whole team."

Siena also had a relatively easy time in its opener, using a 54-point first half to beat American University 96-80 on Tuesday in coach Carmen Maciariello's debut after spending last season as a Saints assistant.

Guard Jalen Pickett, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference preseason Player of the Year, led Siena with 22 points despite not starting because of a violation of team rules. Notre Dame graduate transfer Elijah Burns had 19 points and nine rebounds and Mount St. Mary's sophomore transfer Don Carey had 17.

Maciariello's focus also is on the defensive end as he prepares for Xavier, which has a 3-1 edge in the series last played in 2002-03.

"I have high expectations," Maciariello said after the American game. "I was pleased. I think we can always do better. As long as we are guarding and playing with an edge on the defensive end ... I know we have talented players offensively."

--Field Level Media