Xavier fans could probably be forgiven for thinking they had seen this one before. When Javarris Barnett buried a wide open three barely 15 seconds into the game, Xavier fans the world over went to a very bad place. While the Musketeers never did figure out how to contain Barnett, this game didn't quite good as poorly as it could have.
That's not to say this was exacltly a masterclass, though. Xavier once again played mediocre, at best, defense and let an opponent that would appear to be inferior stay in a game. After the Barnett three pointer, the game went back and forth until three pointer from Brad Redford and Dee Davis gave Xavier some breathing room at 18-13 with nine minutes to play. The offense briefly clicked again from that point, rattling off a 12-7 run that stretched the lead to 30-20 with four to go in the first half. After a trying two weeks, Xavier finally had a chance to bury an opponent early.
Of course, they didn't. With five free throws and a Derrio Green three pointer, Charlotte was right back in it. Xavier took a 37-33 lead to the half, but they had allowed the 49ers to score 13 points in the last 3:24 of the half. Right when the defense had a chance to really seal a game down, it let up. While this kind of letup is no longer a surprise, it is still every bit as miserable to watch.
The combination of stagnating offense (Joel pointed out the inefficiency after Kenny Frease was no longer the main target) and that same defense finally came to roost when Charlotte tied the game at 52 with 11:26 to play. Fittingly, it was a three pointer from Javarris Barnett, who finished an unbelieveable 7-8 from deep, that tied the game. While Barnett was really stretching the bounds of reality with his shot selection, Xavier was still culpable in allowing him to catch the ball with room to shoot.
Barnett's heroics aside, Xavier was saved by Charlotte's complete inability to shoot the ball. Excepting Barnett, the 49ers were 3-16 (18%) from deep and and appalling 11-35 (31%) from the floor. While Xavier still allowed 70 points to a pretty poor Charlotte team, 20 of those did come from the free throw line. Points are points though, and Xavier was once again involved in a close game after having a chance to put a team away early.
Thankfully for the Musketeers, Brad Redford and Travis Taylor had come to play. Taylor has been somewhat enigmatic this season, creating plenty of opportunities with his athleticism but then failing to convert seemingly the simplest of chances. Redford, on the other hand, has just been missing almost every shot he takes. Desperately needing some sort of offensive boost, XU got it from their two biggest weapons off the bench. With the game still tied at 10:13 to play, Redford buried his third three of the game to give the Musketeers a lead they would not relinquish. That also gave Redford a personal six point run, one that was keyed by rebounds from Travis Taylor.
It was neither Taylor nor Redford though, who gave Xavier the bounce they needed right at the end. Dez Wells has been slumping recently, but the phenomenal freshman showed up right when he was the most needed. Despite the mini-barrage from deep from Redford, Xavier was clinging to a 62-60 lead with six minutes to play. The crowd in the Halton Arena, sensing a repeat of last year's upset, was as loud as 7,500 people can get following yet another three from Barnett, this one from roughly a mile out.
Dez Wells has brought his own cheering section along from his hometown of Raliegh though, and he soon gave them a reason to make some noise. First, Wells converted a layup by simply outjumping everyone in the lane, on Xavier's next possession, Wells grabbed an offensive board and stuck it back to push the lead back to four. Charlotte came down and missed another three point heave. Wells, by now firmly in Beast Mode, grabbed the board and raced the other way. When Tu Holloway missed, Dez rose above the crowd to tip in and cap off his personal 6-2 run.
Holding a 68-62 lead, the Musketeers converted just enough free throws down the stretch to win. It was neither pretty, nor a great step in the right direction, but it also wasn't a loss.
Does anyone other than Tu and Cheeks want any part of winning a basketball game? Dez Wells took a massive step forward today when he clearly decided to change the game on his own if he could. His 6-2 run not only all but iced the game, it showcased his tremendous ability to dominate lesser athletes. Wells showed a fire last night that only his New York teammates had been flashing lately.
Can Xavier handle a skilled post man? Chris Braswell went for 14/6/0 on 4-7 from the floor. While that isn't exaclty shutting someone down, the Musketeers at least didn't let Braswell eat their proverbial lunch. Call it a small step towards respectable interior defense.
Can Coach Mack get the team ready and make early adjustments? The jury is out on this one. Charlotte stayed in this game by virtue of not missing from the line and Javarris Barnett apparently being the next Faust. There weren't a world of adjustments to make, but it would have been good to see Mack remind his team to feed the post more frequently.
Things I liked:
1. A win: At this point, you can't be picky. Xavier has played themselves onto the NCAA bubble. As incomprehensible as that was in December, it is the reality of late January. A loss to a team like Charlotte could very well have put the Musketeers in the position of needing an A10 tournament championship.
2. Bench production: The bench went for 24/9/4 last night. That isn't world beating, but it is enough to give a boost to a starting lineup that is bound and determined to get theirs. Redford won't score nine every night, but his becoming a threat again is absolutely vital to the success of this team.
3. Kenny Frease: Joel covered this fairly well, but Kenny is a must have for this team. His disappearing act of the last couple weeks landed Xavier where they are. He is, without question, the key player for this team moving forward. If he continues to produce, even 12/4/1 lines, X will be ok.
Things I didn't like:
1. Justin Martin: Picking up a foul is really not the best way to avoid the trillion. Martin was widely heralded and he has done nothing, yet, to make anyone see why. This team could use a consistent third scorer, a role Martin seems perfectly suited to. Unfortunately, Martin is posting a .419/.344/.350 shooting line and doesn't bring rebounding or defense to the table. Xavier needs something out of him other than the two personal fouls he is somehow averaging in only 13 minutes of play.
2. Offensive execution: The 49% from the floor mark covers over the fact that Xavier once again spent a good deal of time trying to beat the ball to death. 18 assists on 29 made buckets isn't bad, but too often the guards go away from the bigs late in the game/shot clock and begin to run some sort of three man weave. Part of this is the bigs fault for being really bad lately, but some ball movement here wouldn't hurt anyone.
3. This absurd idea: May Madness has sprung from the evidently fevered mind of college basketball writer Dan Wolken. When your first paragraph admits that your grand idea will never work, and yet you persist in writing about it, you are engaged in nothing more than some sort of pointless mental exercise. Must be a nice job.
Next Game: @ GW Wed, Feb 1 at 7p