Drake is not a good basketball team. Not currently ranked anywhere near the top 100 of any rating system that matters, the Bulldogs entered Anaheim fresh off a defeat by the Detroit Titans. Their win (prior to their victory over an appalling Rice team) came over Division II William Jewell College. In short, Drake is the kind of team that Xavier, even Xavier on a down year, should destroy.
You could be forgiven for forgetting that though, if you watched the first half on Sunday. Far from dominating, Xavier somehow contrived to trail at the half after staking themselves to a deserved 9-2 lead. Drake responded with a 13-6 run, keyed by three Joey King three pointers, to tie the game at 15 with 10 to play in the first. From there, the teams crawled their way to the half with Xavier unable to force the up-tempo game that would force the Bulldogs bigs to come out and play. Nine Musketeers turnovers and five Bulldog offensive rebounds went a long way to making Xavier seem remarkably punchless.
Also helping Xavier seem punchless was a closing 14:29 of the first half in which the Musketeers managed only 14 points. That scoring rate was in thanks more directly to turnovers and a general stagnation of the offense than it was poor shooting, but X did finish the half by missing five of their last six field goal attempts. That, combined with a three possession run in which Xavier managed only one shot, combined to leave the Musketeers adrift a team that Ken Pomeroy ranks in the low 160s. It was not a good half.
Thankfully, there are two halves to all basketball games (to anything with halves, really). Coach Chris Mack noted after the game that his bigs had only three rebounds in the first half, so you can bet that was mentioned in the halftime talk. Isaiah Philmore in particular, showed up with a different motor in the second half and got the minutes to go with it. Philmore finished with 10/6/0 in 27 minutes. 8/5/0 of that came in the second half, most of it during an 11-0 run that started at the 14:18 mark and was keyed by three Philmore offensive rebounds. After that burst, Xavier led 44-36 and wouldn't trail the rest of the way.
That's not to say it was an easy walk home though. Teams with young guards tend to struggle to put games on ice, and yesterday was no exception. Just after the under eight timeout the Bulldogs clawed their way back within two of the Musketeers. Xavier stretched that back to 61-51 at the under four, and things finally seemed under control. The Bulldogs weren't ready to concede yet though, and buried threes on six of their last nine possessions. After their last five attempts, Drake sent the Musketeers to the line. Xavier made nine of those ten attempts to finally close out the game. A final heave made the 74-70 scoreline a bit flattering on Drake, but it didn't matter, the Musketeers head back to Cincinnati with a 5-1 mark.
What happened to Dee Davis? On the plus side, Davis went 6-8 from the line and made his free throws down the stretch to lock away the win. Add that to his 4-7 from the floor and 1-2 from behind the arc, and Davis' 15 points came very efficiently. On the down side, Davis again turned the ball over more times than he created an assist and looked a bit slow. A week off should do the sophomore point guard some good.
Can the frontcourt produce? The bigs didn't get on the glass like they needed to in the first half, but responded well to whatever happened in the locker room at the half. The big three of Philmore, Travis Taylor, and Jeff Robinson put up a 26/14/3 line in 72 minutes. After 16/10/0 in 75 minutes against Drexel, that line looks pretty good. Travis Taylor struggled, with only three points and one rebound. For the Musketeers to beat good competition, those numbers need a big spike up.
Is Semaj a killer? Christon got 16/6/7 in 37 minutes of play. Near the end of the game he didn't really need to take over, as Drake was content to foul and send the Xavier guards to the line, where they went 11-15. Semaj stayed within himself on a 5-12/1-2/5-7 shooting performance. That will more than do for the freshman who is beginning to very much look like the future of the program.
Next Game: @Purdue, Saturday, Dec 1 @ 2:15