Xavier’s Tu Holloway still causes more distress for opponents than any other guard in the Atlantic 10. He’s the only player ranked in the top five in the league in scoring and assists.
But after being named the A-10 player of the year as a junior last season, Holloway’s stats have taken a dip. He’s averaging 16.6 points while shooting 41.8 percent from the field and 33.3 on 3s. Last season, he averaged 19.7 points and shot 42.4 from the floor and 34.5 from the arc.
He does have a slightly better assist rate this season, going from 5.4 to 5.6.
In a revealing interview with Dana O’Neil of ESPN.com, Holloway said the brawl with Cincinnati on Dec. 10 and the criticism afterward have taken a toll on him.
“It just hasn’t been fun. It’s more like a job,” he said of basketball.
“I think it all took some of the life out of me. I know I need to get it back. I just don’t know how. I’m thinking too much, way too much. To be great, you have to play with emotion and passion. I’m trying.”
The Musketeers were 8-0 and ranked in the top 10 nationally before the fight, but have gone 8-9 since. During his press conference Friday afternoon, coach Chris Mack addressed the backlash his players have faced for their part in the melee.
“It’s a life lesson for our kids because everyone knows when you get out in the real world, life’s not always going to deal them easy things,” he said. “You’re going to have to handle adversity.”
Defense key: Kevin Dillard won the Blackburn-McCafferty MVP award in the first game after notching 16 points and nine assists in the Flyers’ 87-72 win. And Mack knows Musketeer defenders will have to keep UD’s point guard in front of them — even though that means fighting through numerous screens.
“He’s extremely crafty, he’s very quick. They set a thousand of them for him,” Mack said. “But I’ve watched him on film — other teams seem to figure out how to handle it. I think it comes down to giving great effort because our scheme isn’t unlike a lot of teams that play Dayton.”
UD’s Matt Kavanaugh also is a concern after tallying 23 points and nine rebounds in the first meeting.
He drew high praise afterward from Mack, who said he was “proud” of the 6-10 center even as an opposing coach because he’s a “self-made player.”
“Kavanaugh had his way with us around the basket. We’re going to have to be stronger. We’re going to have to do our work early in the post and not allow him to plant his rear end three feet from the basket and back Kenny (Frease) in or back Travis (Taylor) in,” Mack said.
“You’ve got to play with a little toughness, you’ve got to play with a little pride, a little guts. That’s what we need in the post.”
Hot streak: Chris Johnson has scored 22 points in UD’s last two games, becoming the first Flyer with back-to-back 20-point outings since Brian Roberts in 2007-08.
The senior wing has averaged 17.3 points and 8.8 rebounds in his last six games while making 19-of-20 foul shots.
“He’s playing as hard as any player I’ve been around in a long time,” UD coach Archie Miller said. “He’s what a senior looks like at the end of his career in terms of the (effort) level he’s giving.
“He’s scoring the ball well for us, rebounding the ball extremely well. He’s playing terrific defense. And I think he is our catalyst on the floor. He’s our every-play guy. We need to get a few more guys to come along with him.”
Twenty-six and counting: Asked if he’s talked to his players about preserving the home winning streak against UD, which has spanned 26 games and 31 years, Mack said: “No. You (media) guys talk about it enough. The only streak I’m worried about is being 1-0 on Saturday night.”
Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2125 or dharris@Dayton DailyNews.com.