USA TODAY Sports
After a first half that threatened to set basketball back several steps of evolution, Xavier finally came alive when it mattered to push to 7-2 on the season.
"I don't want to get into what happened last night, because it's only going to make me mad." Vince Vaughan's character said that in Wedding Crashers, but, with a couple changes, he could've been talking about the first half of today's basketball game. Actually, calling what happened in that first 20 minutes "basketball" seems a bit generous. For half of a game, Golden Flashes and Musketeers alike careered up and down the court, threw the ball away, missed shots at a prodigious rate, dropped easy passes, ran into one another, and in general embarrassed everyone involved. Xavier managed to score only 18 points, make only five field goals, go 2-6 from the line, and somehow trail by only two when the first period of misery finally, mercifully, ended.
The second half didn't start much better for the Musketeers. When Semaj Christon made a layup with 17:18 to play, Xavier hadn't successfully converted a field goal in nine minutes. To that point it had taken the home team 22:42 to score 20 points, from that point on Coach Mack's squad exploded for 42 points in an offensive outburst that seemed to come from absolutely nothing. In Xavier's defense, the offense was clearly trying to figure out how to get in sync without the suddenly irreplaceable Justin Martin. Martin's stopgap in the starting five, Jeff Robinson, was back to his abject worst, managing to accrue a solitary point in 26 minutes of play. While that would be forgivable if Robinson rebounded relentlessly or was a plus defender, he was neither today. The 6'9" forward is clearly back inside his own head, waiting for his soon to be patented tantalizing three game run of February excellence to be useful again.
With Robinson unable to step up and produce in Martin's absence, Coach Mack began running all manner of lineups at KSU. Eric Stenger logged 19 minutes, Landen Amos 13, and James Farr even played two as the coaching staff tried to find a way to get something happening offensively. Blessedly, while all that tinkering was happening Xavier was still choking the life out of Kent State's offense as well. The Golden Flashes ended a horrific 32.3% from the floor and were led in their futility by an unrepentantly gunning Randal Holt, who finished 2-17 and 1-10 from behind the arc. Still, with Xavier totally unable to score, Kent led 29-27 with under 15 to play.
While his teammates attempted to turn shooting poorly (20.8% to be exact) into a performance art in the first half, Brad Redford bided his time. When Redford took his first three pointer of the second half with 14:28 to play, he hadn't shot in nearly 20 minutes. Somehow, the deadeye marksman from Frankenmuth had gotten lost in the first half shuffle and attempted only two shots while his teammates futilely blazed away. Redford connected on that first three of the second half and never looked back, embarking on a six minute tour de force that showed how completely a shooter can change the game. Redford staked Xavier to a one point lead and then struck again to make it four. Dee Davis scored five quick points by finding the gaps that Brad's defender was now obliged to leave before Redford buried another three after dribbling to find just the penumbra of space he needed to release. The next time down, Redford threaded in a pass for an Eric Stenger dunk. Finally, to cap the game deciding 12-0 run, Redford found Christon to end an astonishing six minutes in which he scored nine points and assisted on four more. Suddenly, the Xavier offense was borderline unstoppable.
This Xavier though, and right now nothing is easy. As the offense started to flow more freely the defensive pressure didn't wan, but the defensive rebounding did. Kent managed to grab 14 offensive rebounds in the second period to claw their way back from down to 12 to within five with 4:10 to play. Randal Holt, God bless him, apparently kept thinking the next shot was the one that would turn the tide and generated plenty of those offensive rebound opportunities for his teammates. An apopleptically irate Coach Mack eventually managed to get his point across to his team, and the ensuing free throw parade saw Xavier drastically improve on their first half mark, icing the game with a 12-14 performance down the stretch. It was hardly a work of art, but Xavier can take the confidence of a 44 point half into finals week and, ultimately, the Crosstown Shootout.
-How does Xavier bounce back? At first, horribly. The Musketeers somehow managed to put up 39 points in 44 minutes of regulation basketball over the last two games. The first half and the start of the second half of this game were an exhibition of awful offensive basketball. The difference today was that the defensive effort was a constant. Dee Davis looked a threat on defense at all times, as Randal Holt can testify. Defensive stops can inspire offense, and that was finally the case in the second half.
-Who handles Chris Evans? If you saw the first few minutes of this game you can be forgiven for thinking the answer to this question is "no one." It's isn't though. Landen Amos and Semaj Christon refused to let Evans get a moment's peace on offense. Only when a bigger forward had to switch was Evans able to get anything resembling a clean look. To his credit though, the lack of clean looks hardly deterred Evans, who shot a Randal Holtesque 4-18 from the floor. The popular saying encourages that you miss 100% of the shots you don't take. Today, thanks to Amos, Davis, and Christon, Holt and Evans really tried to miss even 100% of the copious shots they did take.
-Who is going to score from the perimeter? Brad Redford, Brad Redford, and Brad Redford. If you have this game on DVR, do yourself a favor and watch the stretch from 14:28 to 8:48. Very rarely will you see an athlete be as locked in as Redford is for that five minutes and 40 seconds. For that little stretch, he absolutely bosses a game that was hanging in the balance. The final three pointer that Redford makes comes off his hand almost in mid-dribble. More than that, Brad demonstrated his knowledge of the game and immediately starts finding teammates as the defense raced his way in a panic.
Next Game: UC @7pm, Wednesday, Dec 19th
Randal Holt just missed again.