LOWELL, Mass. – Ta'Shia Phillips needed to have a big day with teammate Amber Harris struggling through her worst shooting game of the season.
Phillips scored 26 points, including the go-ahead basket with 1:31 to play, and No. 5 Xavier pulled away in the closing minutes for a 67-60 win over Dayton in the A10 tournament title game Monday.
The performance earned Phillips the tourney's most outstanding player award.
"Ta'Shia was phenomenal," Xavier coach Kevin McGuff said. "If there's a better low post player than her, I've never seen it. You look at the minutes she played today after three straight days, its pretty incredible."
Xavier, which won the A10 tourney title for the fourth time in five years, earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tourney, the Musketeers' fourth straight trip.
Special Jennings had 17 points and Harris, the Atlantic 10 player of the year, overcame her rough shooting day to score 12 for Xavier (28-2).
"Harris has a lot of awe in her game and a lot of flash, but I think the player that makes them go is Phillips," Dayton coach Jim Jabir said. "Look at her numbers. She had 26 points and we were hanging on her all day."
Justine Raterman, who played with a sore knee she said she tweaked a few times, led the Flyers (21-11) with 19 points. Kristin Daugherty added 12.
After Raterman's jumper tied it 60 with 2 minutes left, Phillips, who went 11 of 19 from the floor, scored in the lane. Harris then hit the first of two free throws before the Musketeers got the rebound on the miss.
"We actually had two plays called," McGuff said. "Special is an amazing point guard to be able to zip that pass into Ta'Shia."
Harris, Xavier's scoring leader, went just 5 for 17 from the floor.
Phillips, who logged 39 minutes, then nailed two from the line to help seal it.
"They make my life so much easier," Jennings said of her two frontline teammates.
Harris' short jumper in the lane triggered a 6-0 run as the Musketeers opened their largest lead of the game, 58-53 with 3:46 to play. Phillips then followed with two free throws before Harris hit a turnaround jumper.
Like in the first half, Dayton constantly fronted and double-teamed the 6-foot-5 Harris, making it tough for her to get the ball in good scoring spots. But, when they needed scoring inside, Phillips was there.
"We did a pretty decent job of rotating defenses and a pretty decent job doubling, but she ended up with 26," Jabir said. "She's a great player. I think she's their best player."
The Flyers took a 38-30 lead on Daugherty's jumper from the top of the key 2 minutes into the second half before the Musketeers picked up the defensive pressure, sparking an 11-3 run that tied it at 41 on Harris' fastbreak layup off a turnover with just over 13 minutes to play.
Xavier, which moved up a spot in this week's AP poll and entered the day with the nation's best scoring defense, limiting opponents to 55.3 points per game.
Neither team held more than a two-point edge over next 8½ minutes and the lead changed hands six times.
Dayton, which entered as the conference's highest scoring team, looked as if it could blow Xavier out of the building at the start, pulling to an 11-2 lead in the game's opening 5 minutes.
The Flyers, making their first appearance in the A10 title game, frustrated the Musketeers' low-post tandem of Harris and Phillips, constantly double teaming whenever the ball went to them in the paint and forcing them to take contested shots.
Harris, who entered fifth in the nation in scoring at 19.0 points per game, finally got her first basket of the game on a short jumper in the lane with just over 6 minutes left in the opening half as Xavier climbed back, closing it to 22-20.
But Raterman, who scored 15 points in the opening half mostly by driving past her defender, nailed a 3 from the left wing and followed that with a a baseline drive for a basket.
Harris missed her first three shots from the floor and started 1 for 7.
"I think they had a good defensive strategy, but I still have to make shots," Harris said.
Luckily for the Musketeers, while Harris was shut down the 6-foot-6 Phillips was carrying the team offensively. She scored 16 points on 8 of 12 shooting.
Xavier won the first two meetings of the season between the teams by four points each time, the second in overtime at Dayton on Feb. 5.
Dayton advanced to the final by upsetting second-seeded Temple on Sunday.