A killer at work. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Most of the time a Xavier game for me means a good snack, ESPN2, and constant checking of Twitter. Tonight, though, was a bit different. Working this night in Cleveland gave me the opportunity to listen to the always excellent work of Joe Sunderman and Byron Larkin again. Larkin's excitement and the crisp tones of Sunderman offset each other just as perfectly as always. By the end of the game, Larkin's contagious enthusiasm had turned me into a fist-pumping maniac.
Early on, the big man from Massilon-Perry took advantage of the suspension of Festus Ezeli. A quick four point run for Frease ended much the way Kenny's usually do, with a foul. Actually, fouls were the story for the team early on. With 14:34 to play, the Musketeers had already committed five team fouls. Three more missed free throws left the men from Ohio trailing 12-11.
With Frease already playing as carefully as he can to avoid foul trouble, Travis Taylor finally got his chance to step to the fore. While Lance Goldbourne was having his way on the offensive end (nine early points) he could not contain the athleticism of Taylor on the offensive glass. Taylor bagged six points quickly, capitalizing on his teammates misses. With 9:20 to go, Jeff Robinson got his chance when Kenny Frease mauled Josh Henderson. Frease had controlled the game inside to that point, and Xavier's success hung on Robinson's ability to hold serve.
With 5:27 to play, the Musketeers had become well aware why Vanderbilt is nationally ranked, even without their start center. A Jeffery Taylor 5-0 run stretched the lead to 29-23 as the pace began to pick up. Andre Walker stopped the run off of a nice feed from Dee Davis and the game settled back into the cut and thrust pace that categorized the first half. The Muskies hit the offensive and defensive glass with authority, but the Commodores refused any easy buckets, forcing XU into 11-33 start from the floor. Accompanying that were eight costly turnovers.
We rolled into the half with Xavier trailing 34-29. Mark Lyons and Tu Holloway were a combined 3-16 from the floor and Xavier looked lost, harried, and a bit overwhelmed. What the Musketeers did not look was outworked, and that would matter later. Xavier came out of the half and immediately cut the lead to three courtesy of Kenny Frease. Frease, being booed roundly every time his name was announced, contrived to disappear after that. The Commodores seized the opportunity and pushed the lead to ten with under 15 minutes to play. Even through the radio the noise was immense and it was clear the boys in blue were on the ropes.
There is a difference though, between being on the ropes and being down. Xavier came out of a timeout and forced a turnover, Tu converted twice from the line and drove for a bucket, Brad Redford made Vandy pay for losing him on an inbounds play, Travis Taylor converted a free throw, Mark Lyons drove and scored for an and one and then buried a three, and Travis Taylor scored again. In less than three minutes the Musketeers went from being down ten to up one.
Vanderbilt isn't highly regarded for no reason though, and they refused to just roll over. The next 11:44 saw the Commodores edge to the narrowest of two point margins. When it mattered though, Andre Walker grabbed his 12th rebound of the night and found Mark Lyons for a racing layup that forced overtime. Lyons recovered from his horrid shooting first half to go 5-10 when it mattered the most.
Overtime though, belonged to the closer. Tu Holloway had lay dormant most of the first 30 minutes of the game but came alive late. Holloway finished 9-10 from the line and 3-5 from behind the arc, burying back to back daggers into the Commodores in the overtime period. All that was missing were the strains of Enter Sandman as the All-American scored ten of Xavier's 16 overtime points. This was the kind of game elite teams win. On the road, against a ranked opponent, coming off a bit of a second half letdown. Xavier wants to be considered one of the big dogs, tonight went a long way to confirming that.
Who guards John Jenkins? Tu Holloway. National writers marveled at the job Tu did on Jenkins tonight. Vanderbilt's best player managed 20 points, but he never got into the kind of groove that could kill off a team. What makes Tu Holloway so special was on full display tonight. He locked down the other team's takeover player and then took the game over himself.
Does size matter? Xavier managed 20 offensive rebounds and a rebounding margin of +18. If those numbers seem crazy to you, that's because they are. Xavier was too big, too athletic, and too determined on the glass tonight. Yes, size matters.
What is Xavier's pace? It's still hard to say. The Musketeers had to play a frenetic second half to rally, and it was clear they weren't comfortable doing it. With that caveat, Xavier played a running team at that team's pace and still managed to win. It's clear that a bit more methodical is better for this team, but they can run if they have to.
- Vanderbilt's fans may hate Kenny Frease (probably because he antagonized them) but they love Andre Walker and were classy in showing it. In return, Walker went for 6/14/1 and was absolutely relentless on the glass.
- On the subject of Frease: The big man gave it an excellent effort early, but still seems confused when he gets called for fouls. 6/4/2 is a pathetic line when compared to Taylor or Walker. Kenny needs to figure out how to play aggressively without being stupid.
- Mark Lyons and Tu Holloway have to be considered among the best backcourts in the country. Their lines from tonight aren't great for effciency, but they made plays when they had to.
- Jeff Robinson is a lost cause.
- Coach Mack used Brad Redford like the scalpel he is tonight. Redford took one shot and spent the rest of six minutes terrifying the Vanderbilt defense. He was the perfect combination of decoy and threat.
Next game: vs. Purdue December 3rd @ 3p