MIDDLETOWN >> Buoyed by the surprising return of star guard Elijah Pemberton, Xavier played its best game of the season in defeating Notre Dame-West Haven 62-51 in a Southern Connecticut Conference/Quinnipiac Division game at the Art Kohs gym at Xavier Friday night.
Pemberton, who was injured in the Amity game Monday night, said as recently as Thursday that he wasn’t going to play for “at least two games.” But he was cleared to play by the school’s trainer.
“That’s all I needed to hear,” said Xavier coach Mike Kohs. “I think in his own mind he was unsure, but the trainer explained to him that he was good to go and he needed to hear that.”
Pemberton, who played throughout, had only eight points. But guard Thomas Jackson with 19 points, center Kaleb Lutton with 16 and forward Brandon MacPherson with 13, more than made up for Pemberton’s low-scoring night.
“No question this was our best game,” said Kohs. “Well, maybe make that our best two and half quarters, because I thought we were lethargic at first. We got on Jackson in the second quarter, telling him to attack the basket and after that he did a super job..
“I thought all my guys played well, but Lutton was outstanding. It usually takes to mid-January for football guys to get their basketball legs. He had 16 rebounds to lead everybody. And MacPherson had the biggest basket of the night.”
That hoop came with 5 minutes, 30 seconds left in the game. Notre Dame cut the lead to 47-43 when MacPherson drained a trey from the right corner to give Xavier a 50-43 lead.
The Falcons were never in trouble again.
“We didn’t play too well,” said Notre Dame coach Jason Shea. “I thought we were dong a decent job, but then Xavier changed its defense to a 1-3-1 and it gave us trouble.
“Jackson and Pemberton are very long and we couldn’t do the things we should have been able to do against that defense.”
Notre Dame led 9-8 after one. The Green Knights built a 22-14 lead with 3:30 to go in the half, but that’s when Xavier woke up, going on a 9-0 run to take the lead. The teams traded baskets and Notre Dame led by a point, 26-25 at the break.
Xavier (6-1) took command in the third,opening up a 38-30 lead midway through and led 44-36 after three. Twice the visitors got the lead down to four at 45-41 and 47-43, but then MacPherson provided the dagger.
Lonnie Blackwell led Notre Dame with 11 points. The Knights have lost two in a row, to No. 1 Fairfield Prep and Xavier, after a 4-0 start.
Xavier plays Hand in Madison Tuesday.