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No. 25 Xavier aims for faster starts, visits rising Seton Hall

No. 25 Xavier will try to bounce back from an embarrassing loss and host Seton Hall will be trying to add to its NCAA tournament resume when the teams meet Wednesday in Newark, N.J.

The resurgent Pirates (14-7, 5-6 Big East) have won two straight, which is typical of coach Kevin Willard's teams once January is over. The Pirates are 29-17 in February since the start of the 2015-16 season, counting their two victories last week.

But they likely will be facing an angry Xavier squad after a stunning upset. The Musketeers (16-6, 6-5) were the victims Saturday of DePaul's first conference road win this season. DePaul led by seven at halftime and won despite Xavier shooting 14 for 27 (51.9 percent) in the second half.

"You can't win in this league playing 20 minutes of good offense," coach Travis Steele said after his team shot 37 percent in the first half. "You just can't do it.

"Our guard play has got to be better to start the game," he added, "getting us in (our) offense, getting us the shots that we want. ... We've got to run better offense."

The Musketeers have trailed at halftime in seven of their last eight games, and Steele hinted afterward that he might change his lineup to avoid a repeat of those slow starts.

"All positions are open," he said. "They always are. We've just got to continue to evaluate."

One option would be to start reserve guard Dwon Odom, who gave the Musketeers a spark against the Blue Demons. Odom, who averages 18.5 minutes, 5.8 points and 2.2 assists, totaled 28 minutes, eight points, five assists and no turnovers Saturday. His presence enabled point guard Paul Scruggs, who scored 21 points, to play off the ball.

"He had an aggressiveness on the offensive end," Steele said of Odom. "He was finding the right guys. He was sharing the ball, hitting guys on time, on target. ... He played great defensively. He was a hawk on that ball. He was disruptive.

"I thought he was terrific," Steele added. "That's why he played a little bit more than he has been."

The Pirates enter off their most complete game in Big East play this season, a 74-55 rout of Creighton on Friday in which they held the Bluejays to 1-for-11 shooting from 3-point range in the first half.

Point guard Kadary Richmond had 14 points, seven assists and three turnovers in 30 minutes as fellow point guard Bryce Aiken missed his fifth straight game because of concussion protocol. His status for Wednesday's game is uncertain.

Richmond is becoming more comfortable as the primary ballhandler, and said his mindset is "creating for myself, creating for the other guys on the court and just trying to lead more offensively and defensively."

"I think you're starting to see the evolution of a really, really good player," said Willard.

Next up for Seton Hall: trying to make up ground in the Big East standings after tough losses to Providence and Villanova over the holidays, when the Pirates were short-handed due to COVID-19.

"If we can get back to 6-6 after really gifting the league two losses, I'd be thrilled," Willard said.

--Field Level Media

Updated February 7, 2022

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