Xavier was picked to win the Atlantic 10 in the preseason by virtually every national publication, and St. Bonaventure was picked by most of them to be at or near the bottom. Based on that, form held Wednesday night in the Reilly Center.
Looking for their first two-game winning streak in A-10 play in more than three years, the Bonnies were a big bust. Xavier scored the game's first eight points and cruised to a 92-66 victory that disappointed a crowd of 4,127, the second largest of the season.
The loss dropped the Bonnies (5-14, 2-4) into a tie for ninth place in the 14-team conference. Xavier (14-6, 4-2) is tied for third.
The Musketeers used an aggressive man-to-man defense, especially on the perimeter, to stifle a Bona offense that had been producing pretty well in recent games. Bona was coming off an 87-point outing Sunday against La Salle -- its highest output in a conference game in coach Anthony Solomon's four seasons -- and was averaging 73.6 in its first five A-10 outings.
"They were physical at all five spots, and they really took us out of our space," Solomon said. "They won all those little individual battles that take place when you're fighting for an inch or two."
The Bonnies shot 42 percent for the game but fell hopelessly behind, 44-27, by halftime after hitting just 9 of 27 (33 percent) from the field. They also committed 13 of their 20 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes.
"You have to play through things," said Bona guard Zarryon Fereti, who had just one of his 11 points in the second half. "That's one thing we've got to get better at -- playing through adversity."
Xavier, meanwhile, hit 34 of 53 from the field, 11 of 17 from three-point range and led by as many as 30 points in the second half. The Bonnies were down, 14-2, after scoring on just one of their first eight possessions. And that was pretty much that.
"That's who we are," said Xavier coach Sean Miller. "We're balanced on offense and really relying on everybody on defense. . . . The tone is always set on the road on the defensive end. It lets the other team know we're here."
"They showed why they were predicted to be preseason favorite to win the A-10," said Solomon. "We've certainly shown we can play better than we did tonight."
Center Paul Williams, Bona's second-leading scorer and top rebounder, tallied eight points and grabbed just one board after punishing Xavier for 18 points and 10 rebounds in last year's loss in Cincinnati.
Even though a physical presence was needed against the rugged Xavier frontline, Solomon banished Williams to the bench for the final 13:50 of the first half when the senior was whistled for his second foul. The frontcourt reserves were unable to weather his absence.
"Maybe we need to get [Williams] to three fouls in that first half," Solomon admitted.
The Williams-less Bonnies were within seven points (30-23) with four minutes to go, but the Musketeers closed with a 14-4 run to go up by 17. It was more of the same in the second half as Xavier built a 68-38 lead and cruised home.
Senior forward Justin Doellman led four Musketeers in double figures with 20 points. Guard Drew Lavender had 15 points, nailing all five of his three-point shots. Forward Michael Lee had a team-high 14 for Bona, which plays Saturday at Richmond.