Xavier forward Erik Stenger (35) and Tennessee forward Jeronne Maymon (34) battle for a rebound Tuesday night in Cincinnati. (AP Photo)
CINCINNATI — With two starters sidelined with injuries, Xavier needed a big game from its star and a lot of solid showings from the rest of the bench.
The Musketeers got it all.
Semaj Christon scored 18 points, and short-handed Xavier never trailed, using all of its depth to beat cold-shooting Tennessee 67-63 on Tuesday night.
Limited at guard and forward, the Musketeers (2-0) still got it done.
“It shows how deep our team is,” said center Matt Stainbrook, who had 12 points and nine rebounds. “I think that’s going to be our mantra this season.”
Xavier led by as many as 10 points in the first half, when the Volunteers (0-1) couldn’t make any sort of basket consistently. The Vols got within two in the second half, but Xavier pushed it back to 10 and held on. Myles Davis made four free throws in the final 13 seconds to close it out.
The Musketeers kept it close with poor free throw shooting — hitting only 13 of 24 shots from the line. Davis missed a free throw with 23 seconds left, then hit the next one and his final four in the closing seconds.
“After I missed the first one, I was upset with myself,” Davis said. “Everyone told me to stay with it. After that first one, everyone felt good.”
Tennessee had won 14 straight season openers. The Vols opened on the road for the first time since 2004, and it didn’t go well at all.
Jordan McRae led Tennessee with 23 points.
“I don’t think we were pushing the ball in transition enough in the first half,” McRae said. “Semaj was getting to the line in the first half. I needed to do the same thing.
“It was the first game of the year and it was tough against a good defense.”
The teams could be playing again in a couple of weeks. They’re sharing a charter flight to the Bahamas for a tournament over Thanksgiving weekend.
Forward Justin Martin, one of the Musketeers’ three returning starters, was hit in the head late in an opening win over Gardner-Webb on Friday night and left the court woozy. He was in sweats on the bench Tuesday.
Point guard Dee Davis is recovering from a concussion suffered during Xavier’s scrimmage. Davis suited up and warmed up but didn’t play, leaving it to freshman point guard Brandon Randolph to run the offense for the second straight game.
Randolph had five points and four assists and two turnovers in 39 minutes.
“We competed from the tip all the way to the bitter end,” Musketeers coach Chris Mack said. “It’s never easy to finish a game against a really good team.”
Xavier is 175-25 in 14 seasons at the Cintas Center, including 84-12 against non-conference opponents. Tennessee won on the Musketeers’ court in 2007 and had won the past four games between the teams.
Senior forward Jeronne Maymon was back for the Vols after missing last season with an injured left knee. He finished with seven points and 10 rebounds.
Maymon scored Tennessee’s first three points but didn’t make another shot in the half. The rest of the Vols struggled even worse — Tennessee missed its first five shots and 16 of its first 17.
Xavier took advantage and pulled out to a quick 14-4 lead. The Musketeers repeatedly missed close-up shots — including a breakaway dunk — that could have padded the lead.
McRae, who averaged 15.7 points last season, got Tennessee out of its slump by hitting a 3-pointer and a driving layup. The rest of the Vols weren’t able to make any sort of shot consistently, though, and Xavier took a 27-20 lead into the break.
McRae had a game-high 13 points at halftime. The rest of the Vols were a combined 3-of-20 from the field and 1-of-8 on free throws.
“I thought we had some good looks, they just didn’t fall,” UT coach Cuonzo Martin said. “When that happens and then we missed free throws, we didn’t get into a rhythm.”
Josh Richardson found his touch at the start of the second half, hitting a pair of 3s and two free throws. Antonio Barton’s steal and layup and 3-pointer cut the lead to 39-37 with 13 minutes left. Davis’ 3 started a 7-2 spurt that rebuilt Xavier’s lead.
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