Dee Davis is a warrior. I'm about to say some unflattering things about the young man, but I won't ever question his heart. On a night when his team foundered around him, other players let cramps sideline them, Dee himself was injured, and nothing went right for 20 straight minutes, Davis simply refused to quit. Until he was finally removed from the game on a terrible fifth foul call, Darwin Davis Jr. just would not let anything stop him from playing in the Crosstown Shootout. So, before we get into the misery that was that second half, hats off to Dee Davis.
If you tuned in at the half and saw Xavier holding a 24-22 lead you could be forgiven for thinking the Musketeers had slowed the pace and were playing with a more talented UC Bearcat team. To some extent, that was true. Xavier had uglied the game up to the point that any neutral fans watching must have been at least mildly horrified. A UC 5-0 lead was erased by a 16-6 Xavier "run" that took nearly eight minutes of game time. Indeed, for one particularly gruesome seven and a half minute stretch of the first half, the teams combined to score seven points. Xavier's defense was at its best since Butler, active in the passing lanes, swarming in the post, and fast to every ball. The Bearcats were pressured into shooting an appalling 28% from the floor for the first 20 minutes.
Unfortunately, Xavier could not capitalize. The Musketeers were ferocious on defense and completely hopeless offensively. At the half Xavier was 2-6 from deep and a ghastly 0-6 from the line. Only Travis Taylor's efforts inside boosted the team's field goal percentage to just a hair over 40 for the half. Seven turnovers only added to the feeling that Xavier was playing with fire by not putting UC away when they had the chance. Still, it was a lead at the half and it had been achieved despite Justin Martin managing to accrue two fouls before the first commercial break.
Much as everyone feared, though, it wasn't to last. Xavier emerged from the locker room apparently expecting the Bearcats to fall back into an open gym 2-3 zone and hope for the best. Of course, that didn't happen. Dee Davis played what may very well be the worst four minutes of his life to open the pivotal half, turning the ball over three times, committing a foul, and looking absolutely terrified. UC smelled blood on the water and attacked. The halftime lead, admittedly scant, vanished in seconds as the Bearcats ripped off a 17-4 run that essentially decided the game. Semaj Christon went down with cramps, Justin Martin was on and off the court with foul trouble, Brad Redford ran the point, Dee Davis got hurt, Jeff Robinson shot the ball, Isaiah Philmore disappeared, and nearly everything that could go wrong for the Musketeers did.
The second half of the game was a demonstration of what happens when a team hits its wall. It wasn't a lack of effort that doomed Xavier, it was a lack of talent. X was simply the second best team on the court, and it wasn't really all that close. In the midst of what can only be described as a complete disintegration, Dee Davis stood up to be counted. No, the Bloomington native didn't take the game over and win it for Xavier and no, he didn't play a particularly good game. But, if you like your heroes gritty and defiant, you can do worse than Davis. His hobbling steal and drive for a floater with 9:39 to go were really the last time that Xavier looked like they had even a half a chance in the game. It ended up being in vain, but Dee really did go down fighting.
A few thoughts: The narrative of the second half isn't worth (read: is too painful) getting into, so I'm going to change things up a bit here and just offer some thoughts.
1. I don't know what happened to Semaj Christon, but it wasn't good. I know he's a freshman, I know it was hot, and I know he's not used to college games yet, but leaders don't wear sweats while their team melts down around them. Coach Mack was clearly not pleased with his star after the game, and for good reason. While Dee Davis hobbled around on about half of a good leg, Christon looked disinterested on the end of the bench. Effort isn't everything, but it matters. Showing your teammates and your coaches that you will wring as much as you can from your body goes a long way toward earning respect. At the very least, Semaj missed that opportunity.
2. Once again, an inside presence for the Musketeers is going unheeded. For the last couple of years, it was Kenny Frease toiling in relative anonymity, now it is Travis Taylor. Tonight Taylor went 6-10 from the floor but was not a factor in the game. Xavier could not get anything going outside at all, feeding Taylor (who was active all game) could have sparked an offense that struggled to even be stagnant.
3. Jeff Robinson is back to form, scoring six on 3-4 from the floor, grabbing three rebounds, and mostly looking like he didn't care at all. In one telling possession in the second half both Taylor and Justin Martin hit the floor for a rebound while Robinson, the tallest player on the team, stood in the corner and watched with his hands held hopefully, waiting for a pass that had no chance of arriving. Erik Stenger offers far more than JRob at this point. As case in point, Stenger managed four rebounds to Robinson's three despite playing 12 fewer minutes. Stenger also out offensive rebounded Robinson 2-0.
How does Xavier match up? Poorly. Joel rightly pointed out in his game preview that Xavier needed Justin Martin's length to have a chance defensively. When Martin picked up his second foul with 36:39 to play in the game, Xavier instantly became undersized outside. The player Martin was guarding when he picked up that second foul, JaQuon Parker, went on to grab five offensive rebounds.
Can Xavier's forwards hold their own? Travis Taylor can. Taylor provided 12/10/0 and was actually the game's leading rebounder. Taylor was a ball of manic energy all night and played about as well as he can. Isaiah Philmore and Jeff Robinson combined for 14/9/3 and got outmuscled and outworked all over the court. Robinson has long since been a lost cause, but seeing Philmore fail to impact a game is disheartening.
Is Semaj ready for the big time? Yes and no. There is no question that Christon's game plays in any game. If anyone was troubling the UC defense, it was him. That said, 6/0/4 on 3-9/0-2/0-4 speaks to a work in progress. Christon also was felled with cramps significant enough to end his game for the third time this season. That's nothing more than a lack of physical preparation, and it cost the Musketeers tonight. Semaj has elite speed and burst, but that doesn't matter when his legs keep failing him.
Next Game: Wofford @ 2pm, Sat, December 22nd