Xavier’s chance at a strong regular season may not be so remote after all.
Led by impressive guard play and noticeable improvement in every facet of the game, Xavier defeated Hamden 69-49 in a Southern Connecticut Conference Quinnipiac Division matchup. The win was the Falcons second in a row after a 1-5 start to the season and was the team’s first win at home. Hamden fell to 6-2 on the season.
The play of Xavier’s guards, especially that of senior James Sullivan and freshman Elijah Pemberton, drove the Falcons to victory. The team’s backcourt did an excellent job of handling the ball and consistently finding open players for strong opportunities. They ran a quick and aggressive offense that put Hamden on its heels and wore them down, while largely avoiding turnovers (Xavier only had 11 in this game) and mental errors. The Falcons were a different team last night thanks to a backcourt that looked completely different.
“That’s a number we haven’t seen since last season,” said Kohs. “All of our guards played well tonight: Stefan Opalacz, Pat D’Amato, James Sullivan and Pemberton. What also helps is that D’Amato is starting to get his basketball legs. It’s usually the case that football players don’t get into basketball shape until the middle of January and we can see it coming with him.”
Sullivan and Pemberton particularly played well of off Jovan Santos-Knox. With the senior receiving the ball in good position all night, Xavier’s beast of a forward pushed around and bowled over helpless defenders on his way to 26 points and a smorgasbord of rebounds. With Santos-Knox a constant threat in the paint, Pemberton found open lanes to the basket for layups and Sullivan made back-breaking outside jumpers to balance the offense. Sullivan and Sullivan both finished with 15 points.
The Falcons were in control from the opening tip. Led by Santos-Knox’ 14 points, the team led 15-8 after one quarter and 27-20 at the half.
Xavier eventually pulled away in the third quarter and on Sullivan’s buzzer-beater, took a 44-33 lead into the fourth. The team blew the Green Dragons out in the fourth, 25-16, going on to win by 20 points.
“I thought we played outstanding defense,” said Kohs. “We handled the pressure very well too. And we shot free throws well, so in every phase of the game we played well. The kids lost some confidence early in the season and we struggled a little bit. But they worked hard in practice and they believed we could get better.”
Kohs noted that Xavier’s last two wins were over teams with good records. “Prep was 5-1 when we came in and Hamden came in 6-1,” said Kohs. “We beat a couple of pretty good teams.”
Xavier held the Dragons to 38 percent shooting as the Green Dragons failed to break the Falcons pressure. Hamden only sporadically got good looks or got the ball inside. Richard Kennedy led Hamden with 21 points. Xavier, in contrast, lit up the scoreboard, making 27-0f-47 for 57 percent.
On Tuesday, Wilbur Cross comes to the Art Kohs Gym and on Thursday, Xavier plays one of the state’s elite squads in Hillhouse in New Haven.