Xavier already has feel for biggest foe

Miss. State's Roberts beat No. 7 seed in Dec.

Ncaa Regional Atlanta

March 21, 2004|By Jeff Darlington | Jeff Darlington,ORLANDO SENTINEL

ORLANDO, Fla. - Forget the game tapes. Throw away the scouting reports. And there's no need to lecture anyone on Xavier's roster, either.

The Musketeers already know how detrimental Mississippi State forward Lawrence Roberts can be. They've been victimized once before.

"Oh, yeah," senior Anthony Myles said. "We're familiar with him."

How could they forget? In December, Roberts scored 21 points to lead his team to an 82-70 victory against Xavier in Starkville, Miss.

Roberts, the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, didn't just offer a preview of his skills. He fired off a full-day seminar.

But three months later, as the teams prepare for a rematch in second-round action of the NCAA tournament at 12:10 p.m. today in Orlando, it's time to find out whether the No. 7 seed Musketeers learned their lesson.

"He's unbelievable," Xavier guard Lionel Chalmers said. "He can do a lot of different things. He can post up and shoot the three. It's a tough matchup, but we've played them before. We understand how to play them."

As Chalmers and his teammates were quick to point out, this also isn't nearly the same team Mississippi State faced in December. Xavier has won 14 of its past 15 games - including a 20-point victory against Saint Joseph's. Not to mention, it made a four-game, four-day sweep to win the Atlantic 10 tournament.

"They're playing as well or better than anyone in the country," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said.

So although the teams already met once this season, December's showdown between them may not be a fair gauge of expectations for today's game.

"What you do during the season is thrown out when it comes to the NCAA tournament," Chalmers said. "As for us, we've grown as a team. We know what it takes to win. We have great leadership now. We're feeling good, and we're confident just as they are."

But while Xavier is highlighted by an impressive backcourt of Chalmers and senior Romain Sato, the Musketeers lack a proven presence on the inside capable of matching up against Roberts.

They likely will be forced to play a more zone-oriented defense than they are accustomed to, and Myles said he doesn't expect to double-team Roberts. Should that be the case, No. 2 seed Mississippi State will be left with an opportunity to exploit a potential mismatch.

"We hope it's a mismatch," said Stansbury, still noting the threatening strength and size of Myles (6 feet 9, 245 pounds). "Naturally, we want to utilize him [Roberts], because they play behind the post and don't double much. We're going to get the ball to him as much as we can-just like we always try to do."

Roberts, who left Friday's Atlanta Regional game against Monmouth with 19 points after taking a swipe to his right eye, said doctors cleared him to play without concern.

While his vision was still slightly blurred yesterday, he said he felt fine. There were no noticeable signs of swelling or redness.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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