Gutless. With 5:51 to play tonight Xavier was somehow down only eight to a La Salle squad that had comprehensively outplayed them. A good team takes that opportunity and converts three straight stops into a run. A good team gets aggressive and makes an inexperienced Explorers group earn the win. A good team makes some shots. Xavier didn't do any of that tonight because, when the chips are down, this team is revoltingly gutless.
I wanted this to be a re-emergence, wanted the swagger back, wanted an upstart La Salle team to get thrashed by the big boys. I had confidence that Chris Mack would have the team ready and willing to do some damage. I sat down on my couch with the DVR remote in hand, very much wanting to believe that tonight would end the skid. Instead, I watched a Xavier team that was going to get back to defense allow scores on nine of La Salle's first 20 possessions and allow 46 first half points.Down 16 at the half is probably not what anyone had in mind when heading to Philly, but it wasn't just the result that hurt. The way it happened reflected a lazy team that has either tuned out the coach, or isn't being coached well. The Explorers continued the trend of torching Xavier from deep by making seven threes in the first half alone. Xavier responded by turning the ball over nine times and going 11-31 from the floor with an astounding seven shots missed from inside the charge circle. Basketball simply cannot be played much worse.
Still, Xavier has been down 16 this year and still found a way to win. To start the comeback, the Musketeers promptly allowed an offensive rebound and stickback on their first defensive possession. While XU did win the rebounding contest, they still allowed an undersized La Salle team eight offensive boards, one more than the men in blue managed. Where effort is required, the Musketeers come up lacking right now.
Xavier did claw back into the game, but simply could not get stops or buckets when they were absolutely vital. Xavier followed an early second half 10-2 run by allowing yet another three pointer (with an and one) and a layup that pushed the lead back to 16 at 58-42. Twice more before five minute mark the Musketeers cut the lead back to under ten, only to again give up a short La Salle burst. Whatever it is that makes teams bear down and close games, these guys do not have it.
As time waned Tu Holloway tried to rise to the occasion. The senior started a slow motion comeback with a layup to again draw within eight with 5:51 to play, a Mark Lyons three at 1:45 made the lead five and seemed to give X one final chance to escape with an undeserved win. But, again, the little spark that makes teams get intense, get a stop, and get a bucket was completely missing. An ill-advised Lyons odd man runout led to a La Salle layup going the other way. At the point Xavier was done, and Dylan Thomas would hardly have credited their effort. This was a listless, uninspired, gutless performance with the season hanging in the balance.
How does Xavier match up? Coach Mack stuck with the usual crew, but matchups weren't the issue. Defensive rotations were slow and apathetic if they happened at all and even switches weren't executed properly. It's very hard to matchup with a team well when you are too lazy to make it happen.
Can anyone on Xavier be counted on to shoot the three? Mark Lyons went 2-4 and made a potentially big three late. Dee Davis went 2-3 despite a shot that seems to come from his ear. The rest of the team went 0-7. Justin Martin never even entered the game despite his 40.7% mark on the year. Brad Redford is becoming a ghost right before our eyes.
Who is Xavier's third scorer? Tu scored an inefficient 15, Lyons had 13, Wells had 15, and Big Kenny had 10. The scoring tonight wasn't as much of an issue as it had been, but 40.3% from the floor still, frankly, sucks.
- I'm not sure what Justin Martin did, but it must have been bad. Xavier needed some sort of offensive miracle late, and the only player likely to generate one never even looked likely to enter the game. Coach Mack evidently had a point to make, but it may have cost the team the game.
- Jeff Robinson is still bad at basketball. I don't care what the perceived flaws of Travis Taylor are, he's twice the player. In eleven less minutes Taylor equaled Robinson's fantastic output of two points and managed to get close to the rim far more frequently. Robinson is, without a doubt, the worst player in the rotation. How he gets 18 minutes is beyond me.
- The intensity shown by Dee Davis and Dez Wells is the only positive from this game. Both freshman were yelling at upperclassmen, getting after defensive assignments, and generally behaving like college basketball players should. Both are clearly excellent signings.
- I said when asked by Football and Brackets that I would have only suspended everyone for one game and not made them apologize. This is why. Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons are playing as if they have been neutered right now. The swagger and authority that this team had were erased when the players were forced into contrition. Xavier was going to wear the black hat anyway, better to have reveled in being the bad guy than this complete timidity.