CINCINNATI (AP) — Paul Scruggs saw an opening and went to the basket for the shot that would finally give No. 21 Xavier some breathing room.
Scruggs scored 14 points and made a layup with 11.6 seconds left Friday night, helping the Musketeers hold off Missouri State for a 59-56 victory.
The Musketeers (4-0) never trailed but couldn’t shake clear of the team picked to win the Missouri Valley Conference. The Bears (2-2) tied it at 56, but Xavier made a free throw and two big plays in the closing seconds.
Coach Travis Steele sensed his players got comfortable after running out to a 10-0 lead.
“I felt when we got up early, our guys thought it would be easy,” Steele said. “I could tell by their faces and eyes in the huddle.”
Instead, it would come down to the closing seconds.
After Naji Marshall’s free throw broke the tie, Tyrique Jones missed a jumper but got the rebound and passed it out. Scruggs got the ball and saw an opening for a layup and a 59-56 lead.
“I had an open lane and I took it,” Scruggs said.
Steele was going to call a timeout until he saw the ball go to Scruggs.
“The clock was dwindling down and I almost called timeout but I saw the ball get swung to Paul and said, ‘We’re just going to let this thing roll,’” Steele said. “He’s fearless. He’s ready for that moment.”
The Bears missed a pair of 3-point shots in the closing seconds. Lamont West and Keandre Cook scored 13 points apiece for the Bears, who had 22 turnovers.
“We haven’t been playing very well,” coach Dana Ford said. “But I take encouragement from a game like this. The way we’ve been playing, we could have come in here and lost by 20. We’re playing better than we were.”
Jones added 15 points and six rebounds but had five of Xavier’s 15 turnovers. The Musketeers again struggled to make perimeter shots, going 5 of 23 from beyond the arc against the Bears’ 1-3-1 zone defense.
The Musketeers were coming off a ragged 63-58 overtime victory over Missouri. They blew a 15-point lead and rallied from behind to send it overtime on Marshall’s 3-pointer late in regulation.
On Friday, the Musketeers opened with a 10-0 run that included a 3-pointer by Quentin Goodin and prompted Missouri State to call a timeout to get settled down. The Bears kept it close the rest of the way, tying it twice in the second half.
The Bears also took advantage of 10 Xavier turnovers in the first half and trailed 32-30 at the break.
West’s 3-pointer tied it at 36 early in the second half, but Scruggs hit a layup and a 3 as Xavier rebuilt the lead 49-40. The Musketeers couldn’t break free, however, repeatedly missing open outside shots. Gaige Prim’s fast-break dunk tied it at 56 with 1:29 to go.
Missouri State: The Bears are 6-39 all-time against Top 25 teams. Their last win over a ranked team was 77-65 over No. 21 Creighton on Dec. 28, 2011.
Xavier: The Musketeers came in shooting 20.6% from beyond the arc this season and were coming off a 3-for-21 performance against Missouri.
“We’re taking the 3s we want and we’re taking the 3s we can hit,” said Scruggs, who was 2 of 5 beyond the arc. “We just need to get in the gym and make more shots.”
SEEN YOU SOON?
Both teams head to the Charleston Classic next week and could face each other again. They had never played before Friday.
HIT THE ROAD
All of Xavier's four games have been at the Cintas Center, where the Musketeers are 262-41 all-time.
Fans chanted Jared Ridder's name during timeouts. The sophomore committed to Xavier in 2016 but left a year later to return to his hometown and play with Missouri State. He got hurt in the first game and hasn't played since.
West needs 12 points to reach 1,000 for his career. The graduate student transferred from West Virginia.
Xavier fans chanted "Myles Garrett!" when Prim got a technical foul for throwing the ball in the first half. The Browns star was suspended indefinitely Friday by the NFL for pulling the helmet off Pittsburgh's Mason Rudolph and hitting the quarterback with it.
Missouri State plays Miami in the Charleston Classic on Thursday.
Xavier plays Towson in the Charleston Classic on Thursday.
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