Semaj Christon scored 19 points and rallied Xavier from a 13-point deficit in the second half to a 63-60 victory over Evansville Tuesday night in the renewal of an old Ohio River basketball rivalry.
CINCINNATI (AP) -- Xavier trailed by 13 points with only 12 minutes to go. The Musketeers had nothing going on offense.
With his flashy drives to the basket, Semaj Christon changed everything.
Christon repeatedly drove toward the basket, drew fouls and made the free throws -- a challenge all season -- as he rallied Xavier to a 63-60 victory over Evansville on Tuesday night in the renewal of an old Ohio River basketball rivalry.
Christon led a 23-8 run that got Xavier (7-3) ahead. He went only 3 of 14 from the field but was 13 of 17 from the free-throw line, a place where he'd struggled all season.
"I just stay aggressive," Christon said. "Hopefully the refs give me the call."
He's gotten them all season but made only 56 percent from the free-throw line, his biggest area for improvement. He's shot a lot of free throws lately trying to find his touch.
"It's paying off a little bit," Christon said. "I missed a couple late in the game."
He made only one of two with 18 seconds left, giving Evansville (6-4) a chance to tie it. D.J. Balentine's long 3-pointer with two defenders in front of him went off the back of the rim in the closing seconds.
"He had a pretty good look for how he shoots," Xavier guard Dee Davis said.
The play unfolded the way the Aces drew it up, but Balentine put a little bit too much on the contested shot.
"Dee Davis had really good defense on me that last play, but that's how it was designed," Balentine said.
Matt Stainbrook got the rebound to seal it, finishing off his second double-double of the season with 10 points and 15 rebounds.
Balentine finished with 15 points but was only 2 of 7 from beyond the arc.
The game renewed an old rivalry with a notable connection.
The Aces and the Musketeers contended for titles in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference for 15 years. Xavier coach Chris Mack was a two-year starter at Evansville until 1990, when he transferred home and played for Xavier. The schools hadn't played since 1994.
"It's lost a lot of familiarity from the players' standpoint," Mack said. "From a coaching standpoint on the Xavier side, Evansville reminds me a lot of the teams I played for. They really share the ball, crowd the paint on defense and try to let certain guys shoot."
Neither team got into an offensive flow early, resulting in five lead changes and four ties in the first 10 minutes. Center Egidijus Mockevicius had a pair of layups and two free throws during a 10-point run that gave the Aces a 24-15 lead.
Balentine came in averaging 24.9 points per game, fourth nationally. The sophomore guard missed his first four shots before making a layup that pushed the lead to 29-19 with 4:10 left in the half.
Xavier couldn't do anything against Evansville's packed-in half-court defense, with its front line repeatedly missing contested layups. The Aces led 32-25 at halftime, the fewest points the Musketeers had in an opening half this season.
Evansville led even though Balentine had only two points on 1-of-6 shooting. Mockevicius had a game-high nine points and four rebounds at the half, but picked up his fourth foul with 10:08 left in the game.
Balentine's long 3-pointer beat the shot clock and made it 43-33 with 14 minutes left, his first basket after three misses from beyond the arc. The Musketeers were getting outplayed all around, with the Aces shooting 50 percent from the field and leading in rebounds 24-19.
That's when it all changed.
"Xavier amped up their defense in the second half," coach Marty Simmons said. "They pressured us more. We made some mistakes."
The Aces led by as many as 13 points before Christon asserted himself, making a three-point play, a driving layup and five free throws during a 15-6 spurt that cut it to 54-53 with 6:41 left.
Davis completed the comeback by hitting a long 3-pointer as the shot clock ran out for a 57-56 lead with 5:01 to go, Xavier's first lead since midway through the first half.
Balentine missed both free throws with 1:08 left and the score tied at 58. After Justin Martin's layup off a pass from Stainbrook put Xavier up 62-60, Balentine drove the baseline and Martin blocked his shot, with Christon getting the loose ball. He was fouled and made one of two free throws.
Evansville called timeout with 5.5 seconds left to set up the final shot by Balentine.