CHICAGO – Behind 29 points, eight rebounds and career-high eight assists by junior point guard Quinn Niego (Chicago, Ill./Brother Rice), the Saint Xavier University men's basketball team pulled away in the second half to capture a big 80-68 win over Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC) rival and No. 19 ranked University of St. Francis (Ill.) Saturday afternoon at the Shannon Center in Chicago. The Cougars (9-9 overall/6-4 CCAC) held a slim 36-35 lead at the break, but opened the second half with a 21-8 run to build a 57-43 lead with 12:32 to play in the game. Senior guard Kyle Huppe (Edgerton, Kan./Gardner Edgerton) also had a big game for SXU scoring 19 points to aid the victory. Niego buried seven three-pointers at a 64 percent clip (7-for-11) en route to his impressive outing.
Junior guard Jared Jones (Waukee, Iowa/Trinity Christian/Des Moines Christian) added nine points for the Cougars and surpassed 1,000 points for his collegiate career at both Trinity Christian and SXU. The Fighting Saints were led by senior guard Jo Jo Ballestero with 14 points. Saint Xavier was tough defensively limiting USF to just 37 percent (26-for-70) shooting from the field for the game, including just 33 percent (12-for-36) in the second half alone. SXU got off to a slow start and trailed 11-6 with 13 minutes remaining in the first half. However, a three-pointer by freshman guard/forward Jack Brody (Lockport, Ill./UIndy/Providence Catholic) gave the Cougars their first lead of the day at 14-13 near the midpoint of the frame. The two teams went back and forth for the remainder of the half with neither able to build more than a five-point edge.
After its strong start to the second half, Saint Xavier held a double-digit advantage for the game's next eight minutes before the Saints made a push. Ballestero hit some key shots down the stretch to trim the lead to seven points twice during the final five minutes of regulation. Fortunately for SXU, three-pointers by Huppe and Jones kept USF from getting any closer. The Cougars scored 26 points off 15 USF turnovers Saturday.
Saint Xavier (9-9 overall/6-4 CCAC) continues its home stand on Wednesday, January 11, with a conference home game against Saint Ambrose University (Iowa). The game is scheduled for a 7 p.m. start at the Shannon Center.