Anyone expecting to tune in last night and see Xavier demolish the Morgan St Bears was probably disappointed. Anyone who tuned in to see if Coach Mack could mesh ten players, to see if Dez Wells was really that good, to see how a team could play without an All-American, or to get a first look at Travis Taylor, Andre Walker, and Dee Davis, probably turned the television off quite happy.
Early in the game the Morgan St Bears demonstrated the qualities that made them the first of many NCAA tournament teams the Musketeers will play this year. With 12:09 to play in the first half, Xavier was down ten, playing horrendous defense, and missing most of their shots. Five minutes later, Xavier was only down five, Mark Lyons was making a statement, and Dez Wells had announced himself to the world.
It's hard to think of a freshman who has arrived on campus with more potential than Dezmine Wells.13 minutes and 50 seconds into his first game, it became abundantly clear why. Mark Lyons was holding the ball just left of the top of the key when Wells broke off a screen in the right corner. Lyons, seeing the chance, threw the ball toward the rim. The freshman was in acres of space but, as Wells approached in flight, the ball began to tail behind him. Seemingly effortlessly, Dez reached back with his off (left) hand and whipped the ball home viciously. A brief moment of silence preceded the second biggest cheer of the night as Wells jogged back down the court as if nothing had happened. From there on, Xavier controlled the game.
To make it sound as if Dezmine Wells did all the heavy lifting would be unfair to Mark Lyons. Anyone who saw Lyons play two years ago and wrote him off would have been stunned at his performance last night. Cheeks was at his frenetically efficient best. Seemingly always on the verge of being out of control, Lyons poured in 22, grabbed seven rebounds, and managed six assists. The most compelling number of the night for Mark though, was one. In 37 minutes, most of them running the point, the man Tu Holloway called "the second best player in the A10" turned the ball over only one time.
The second half was something of a Lyons tour de force. He lived in passing lanes (three steals), ran the break, found teammates, and looked for all the world like he was the All-American on the team. With the game still somewhat in doubt, Lyons came out and scored ten of Xavier's first 13 of the second half. It was the kind of display that made everyone in attendance feel very good about this team.
Questions Answered: Before the game, Joel asked three questions about the team. Each was answered clearly.
- Who runs the point? Mark Lyons. Actually, for one night, Mark Lyons runs the town. That's not to diminish the efforts of freshman Dee Davis though. Overshadowed my the high-flying Dez Wells, Davis quietly played 22 minutes as the point guard, handled pressure well and had two assists and only one turnover. Most encouraging about Davis was the confidence with which he plays. It's not the New York swagger of Lyons or Tu Holloway, but he clearly knows he belongs.
- What about Jeff Robinson? He's still Jeff Robinson. At times breathtaking, at times invisible. Jeff gave Xavier an early lead by throwing down an Andre Walker miss, he also made a nice drive to get an opportunity for an and one. Jeff countered that by grabbing fewer rebounds than any other player with over twenty minutes (except for the diminutive Davis) and manged to only equal noted rebounder Brad Redford's three.
- How functional is Xavier's depth? Very. Nine players over ten minutes, seven players with five or more points, five players with four or more rebounds. Lest you somehow forget, this was without the best player on the team. There were occasional hiccups as guys adjusted to each other in game flow, but the baseline is there for a very effective rotation.
- Andre Walker looked slow tonight. Despite that, he put up 7/6/3. I'm not sure if it was because of the pace of the players around him or if I was expecting more, but he seemed a step slow. His passing, however, was pinpoint and often devastating to the defense.
- Brad Redford is the fan's favorite. Dez Wells made the #2 play on Sportscenter's top 10, and he managed to get less of an ovation than the when the gunner from Frankenmuth made his first three. The fact that Coach Mack got Redford 11 minutes shows how much he values him as a weapon.
- Kenny Frease has a fouling problem. Two open games, ten fouls. Come on, son.
- If you like swagger combined with effort (and we do), this is your team. Lyons is a known talker, but Travis Taylor, Justin Martin and Kenny Frease also made sure that Morgan St knew that nothing was going to come easy. When Martin hit the floor for a loose ball up 17 in the first game of the year, Coach Mack's heart probably nearly burst with pride. It's one thing to talk, it's another to talk and outscrap the other team.
- Game threads don't always work right. If you dropped by early to share your thoughts and didn't see a place to, that was our fault. We'll get it sorted and have a thread at tipoff on Tuesday.
Next game: IPFW at 7pm on 17 Nov. We'll be here the night before with a full preview.