Coach Chris Mack couldn't have been happy with what he saw on Saturday. - Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE
Robert Morris was exactly as advertised, and suddenly Xavier feels a lot closer to earth. Still, 3-0 is 3-0 and, when it mattered, the Musketeers did exactly what they had to do.
Yikes. After a demolition of Fairleigh Dickinson and then a rolling of Butler it seemed like #SHOCKTHEWORLD was transitioning from a hashtag to a reality. Xavier came into the game feeling very much like a team that had embraced its underdog status and was ready to show everyone that they were still loaded with talent. The Colonials of Robert Morris, though, had other ideas. Not unfamiliar with the underdog role, RMU showed up at the Cintas ready to bring the feel good story to a screeching halt.
At the first media timeout Robert Morris was leading 14-12 and hadn't missed from deep, burying all of their first four attempts. Xavier was responding in kind, but the defense that both times supposedly pride themselves on wasn't yet in attendance. At the 11:29 mark Xavier drew even at 19-19 and the game devolved into a sloppy affair. Xavier also got the next seven points to begin to open the gap, but the starting backcourt of Christon and Davis combined for three turnovers and a missed three pointer in four of the next five possessions to keep the lead from stretching. With 1:24 left in the first half, RMU was back within one after a scramble for the ball saw it end up in the hands of Karvel Anderson, who wasn't in the business of missing in the first half. Davis scored four to give Xavier a 36-31 edge at the half, but the Musketeers didn't look much like pulling away.
The guard play was the biggest question coming into this season. Xavier has the bigs to play with most teams without giving up too much (especially with Isaiah Philmore returning). On the perimeter, though, this team is woefully thin. Coming into the Robert Morris game, things had gone well. Dee Davis was sporting a 3.4 A/TO and Semaj Christon had contributed eight assists in the game he played. Unfortunately, those numbers don't add up to experience. Xavier needed a steady hand on the wheel against the Colonials, and for most of the game it wasn't there. Davis and Christon combined to commit ten turnovers, a number only somewhat excused by the six assists Christon managed.
The second half went back and forth without either team ever in control of it. Xavier led by six on three different occasions and even as late as eight minutes to play, but never was able to stretch that lead into a meaningful one. For their part, the Colonials shot 4-18 from deep after their scorching 5-6 start and missed opportunity after opportunity to tie or take the lead. Xavier, meanwhile, was disjointed offensively and never got any sort of rhythm going at all. Semaj Christon was felled with cramps with 4:18 to go, right when he looked like he wanted the game to come to him.
When Christon went down, so did most of Xavier's offense for the last three minutes. With 4:18 to play and clinging to a two point lead, things didn't look good for the young Musketeers. Less than 30 seconds later the Colonials were level for the first time since 19-19. Jeff Robinson took a pass from Dee Davis and put Xavier back up tow, but Robert Morris evened it back up following Brad Redford capping his 0-5 night from the floor. After that, the teams put together this brilliant exhibition of basketball: foul, foul, timeout, inexcusable miss by Travis Taylor, timeout, miss.
That last miss left Xavier with the ball and no timeouts. Dee Davis, who had struggled all game, caught the ball left side high and motioned for his teammates to clear the lane. Brad Redford drifted into the deep right corner as Davis drove hard to the top of the key. A quick show back to his left and a glance to his right and Davis was driving at the rim, looking for all the world like he was going to try to pull a Tu Holloway. Fearing just that, Brad Redford's man took one step in. Without any hesitation or even a look, Davis drilled Redford in the chest with a perfect pass. Redford's man, having already broken on rule of good defense, broke a couple more by not closing out under control and then leaving his feet at Redford's pump fake. The senior guard took a snake dribble, initiated contact, and got to head to the line for a well-earned two free throws.
Redford made both free throws, but it was Davis who had made the play. That left Robert Morris 37 seconds to tie or win the game. They got three looks at it thanks to Justin Martin being unable to corral a rebound, but the Musketeers hung on. It was ugly, it was inefficient, it reminded everyone that this is a young team, but it was a win. The Musketeers head west at a wholly unexpected 3-0.
How deep is Xavier? Not very. Seven players got minutes today. Thankfully, the seven who played were all reasonably effective as far as this game went. Erik Stenger was the only one not to score, but he did contribute four rebounds and all his usual glue guys stuff. Seven deep isn't a recipe for lasting success.
Is Jeff Robinson for real? 7/4/0 on 2-3/0-0/3-4. Jeff played 33 reasonably useful minutes and didn't force his shot, even when things weren't going well. I'm not certain if that makes you for real or not. He also chipped in a steal, two blocks, and only one turnover. Jeff wasn't a star today, but he didn't play like he has the last years either, so it was at least a partial success.
How soon can Semaj Christon get up to speed? Semaj clearly wanted the ball late and was doing a decent job getting Xavier over the hump when cramps ended his game with 4:18 to play. 12/1/6 is a good line and Christon did manage 30 minutes. Clearly, however, his body is not yet ready to handle a full game. That should have time to change by 2pm on Thanksgiving day.
Next Game: Pacific at 2pm (EST) on Thanksgiving Day. Turn off the meaningless football and get to ESPNU or ESPN3 for the Musketeers.