It was hard to say what to expect coming into last night's game. Xavier returned exactly no starters from the opener last year, Mark Lyons and Tu Holloway weren't around to carry the team on swagger alone, and even all the players who were supposed to be injecting new life into the system weren't ready to play. By the time the game was over and all the smoke from the worst off-season in the history of the program had cleared, things were a lot less tenuous on Victory Parkway. For one night, at least, there was still order in the world.
Fairleigh Dickinson was designed to be the opening game patsy even when things were at their rosiest for the Musketeers. Coming off a 3-26 season, the Knights were never going to be much more than fodder for the team and a chance for the fans to get out and make some noise again. With 14:14 to play in the first half, even that seemed in doubt. Despite having removed one player and suspended four others on the eve of the game, Fairleigh Dickinson led 15-14. From then on though, it was all Xavier. It was more Xavier than anyone had a right to expect.
You'll get a lot of different answers if you ask someone who the key to season is for Xavier. Justin Martin, Semaj Christon, Jeff Robinson, and Brad Redford will all come up. The player that everyone will eventually get around to is Dee Davis. On a team not exactly loaded with talent, the sophomore point guard has to be effective in order for the Musketeers to win. With the score 15-14 last night, Davis took over. Davis buried a three and then racked up assists on Xavier's next four possessions. The beginning of a complete nightmare turned quickly into the rout is was supposed to be. Xavier went on a 21-2 run and never looked back. Davis ended the night with 22 points, but his 15 assists against only three turnovers made for a fun game to watch.
Down low, the Musketeers were a bundle of question marks coming into the game. Does Jeff Robinson understand basketball? Can Eric Stenger play on the DI level? Is Travis Taylor ready to play this year? What can James Farr add? Will Justin Martin start living up to his potential? With the caveat that this was a miserable opponent, Xavier's bigs did their best to put some of the issues to rest. The willowy men in the post dominated the Knights on the glass (41-8(!) rebounding edge), and were consistently aggressive in attacking the rim. Robinson, Taylor, and Stenger started and combined for 38 points and 23 rebounds. Justin Martin scored 11 and added six boards of his own. James Farr was fun to watch and knocked down six of his seven shots on the way to 14 points.
By the time the walk-ons finished their combined 30 minutes of game action, Xavier had walked away with a 117-75 win that was somehow not even as close as that score indicated. For a night, the Musketeer faithful could be happy. Even without to recruit Semaj Christon, Xavier scored efficiently, missing only 18 shots and making 70.5% of their attempts. The ball never stalled, the bigs were relentless, and Dee Davis was amazing. For a night, everything was back to usual at the Cintas.
How well will Dee Davis do in extended time? 22/4/15 is an absurd line that looks even better when you realize Dee only took 11 shots. The sophomore clearly worked on his body and his shot in the off-season and it paid off. Hammering weak opponents only happens if your point guard keeps the team focused and on task. Davis did that all night and deserves all the plaudits he is getting.
Who steps up inside? While it could be argued that everyone inside played well, the most encouraging line of the night was Travis Taylor's 20/12/3. Jeff Robinson is never going to be anything more than mediocre, Isaiah Philmore isn't in game shape and is suspended, and Eric Stenger is a working class hero. If Xavier is going to survive in the post it needs a motivated and effective Travis Taylor.
How ready is Brad Redford? Redford has been a fan favorite for years, and it looks like he will finally get his shot at good playing time. Not rehabbing an injury for the first time in three years, the gunner from Frankenmuth was at his active and brutally efficient best. Redford poured in 19 points and only took one shot that didn't fall. Add to that a steal, two rebounds, and 17 minutes played, and you are looking at the best case scenario for the senior. Redford was consistently ready to shoot when Davis got him the ball, and Davis was consistently looking for him. For the last three years Redford has had to hope a teammate was in a passing mood when he broke open. Last night, he was on the receiving end of passes from a point man looking to involve everyone.
Next Game: vs. Butler. Tuesday, Nov 13th @4pm