Semaj Christon carried Xavier past Purdue. - Michael Hickey
Xavier went into a loud and hostile Mackey Arena and came away with both a win and a star on the rise.
First things first: block yourself a shot, Landen Amos. With Xavier clinging to a tenuous four point lead and exploring new and exciting ways of giving games away, the walk-on sprinted the length of the floor to absolutely pound a Ronnie Johnson layup attempt off the backboard and end any reasonable chance for a Purdue comeback. Getting to the point that Amos had the chance to make that play involved a lot of defense and a lot of Semaj Christon.
When Purdue made the first bucket of the game on the first shot attempt inside the first ten seconds, it seemed like maybe Xavier's defense wasn't going to be the calling card of this game. After Xavier finished ripping off an 11-0 run, the Boilermakers, and their raucous student section, had some idea what they were in for. When Xavier took that 11-2 lead with 14:01 to play, Semaj Christon already had six points, and Justin Martin, of all people, was playing stellar exterior defense. Unfortunately, that lead evaporated almost as quickly as it came.
Purdue answered Xavier's 11-2 run with a 15-2 mark of their own. Xavier's nine point lead would stand as the largest margin either team achieved in what was to become a nip and tuck game. Thanks to a Justin Martin three pointer, the Purdue lead stood at 17-16 at the under eight timeout of the first half. Travis Taylor, who excelled in the first four games of the season, was already 0-4 from the floor and looked the bizarre combination of tentative and spastic that only a lack of confidence can cause. When Jeff Robinson picked up his third personal less than a minute later, Xavier was forced to give Isaiah Philmore a much larger role than he had previously played. Philmore was overmatched by the massive AJ Hammons down low, frequently allowing him to post too low. Xavier desperately needed someone to carry the load.
That someone turned out to be Semaj Christon. While his interior teammates were getting tossed aside like the comparative waifs they are, Christon showed little fear of Purdue's massive front line and attacked the rim relentlessly. Christon logged 40 minutes, missed only four field goals, and scored whenever Xavier needed a bucket. His 25/4/4 line actually understates how much the guard did for his team today. A moronic Justin Martin foul gave Purdue a 29-26 lead at the half, but Semaj's three point play two minutes later pulled Xavier back level, 31-31. From there, the lead changed hands three more times and the game was tied three more times in the next eight minutes as both teams cranked up the intensity.
With 10:14 to play Xavier drew even for the final time after a Travis Taylor jumper and a Brad Redford dribble drive. The drive gave Redford his third two point bucket of the year, and his first points of the game. Shortly after that, Semaj Christon put Xavier in the lead for good with a driving three point play. At the under timeout of the second half, Xavier held that slim 47-46 margin. Neither team scored for two solid minutes of relatively ugly basketball after that until Brad Redford buried a deep three that silenced the crowd for the first time all afternoon. A Semaj Christon pullup stretched the lead to six as the Boilermakers struggled through a 6:03 drought that essentially decided the game.
There was still time left though, and with 1:50 to play the Mackey Arena was rocking again and Purdue had cut the lead back to only three. Semaj Christon scored 12 of Xavier's last 20 points, but it was a Travis Taylor tip with only 36 seconds to play that pushed the lead back to five. Two more Christon free throws left the game looking decided, but Purdue's advantage on the boards kept enough possessions alive that Xavier had to execute at the line. When Dee Davis missed two shots with 11 seconds to play, Purdue had the ball and was trailing by only four points. Thankfully, Landen Amos made a play when he had to, and this game will be remembered for Semaj Christon stepping up, and not Dee Davis missing.
Which Jeff Robinson will show up? While the officiating was less than stellar, Jeff can blame his nine minutes of playing time mostly on himself. 0/2/0 and four fouls is bad, even for Bad Jeff. Xavier got dominated on the boards today, which may have happened anyway, and missing Robinson was part of that. To put a positive spin on it though, Robinson avoided injury, Xavier won, and Isaiah Philmore grabbed some valuable experience. Xavier will need Robinson to avoid foul trouble on Thursday though; this team just isn't deep enough for Jeff to log only nine minutes.
Can Xavier shoot better than Purdue can defend? Xavier shot a serviceable 43.4% from the floor. That number is deceiving though, because Semaj Christon, Justin Martin, and Brad Redford scored 42 points on 69.6% shooting. The rest of the team managed 21 points on 23% shooting. Travis Taylor and Dee Davis were both abominable, putting up 2-11 and 1-9 respectively. More concerning was Davis being continually turned on defense by the Purdue guards. His defense can no longer be considered above average.
Is Xavier ready for the road? Apparently. Hats off to the denizens of Mackey Arena, it was loud in there. Coach Mack felt compelled to salute the crowd in the first half when he picked up a bench warning for venturing too far onto the court in an attempt to be heard. The crowd didn't seem to shake the Musketeers though, as they converted 13-16 free throw attempts and only turned the ball over ten times.
Next Game: v. Vanderbilt, Thursday, Dec. 6th @7:15pm