What happened: Wofford 56 - Xavier 55
Travis Taylor played really well today. He went for 20/11/0 with 3 blocks on 8-12/0-0/4-5 shooting and was hands-down Xavier's best player. Frustratingly, though, it took Xavier almost six minutes to find him with the ball after halftime. Wofford clearly had no answer for Taylor in the post, and the Musketeers came out of the locker room with little or no emphasis on getting the ball to him. It doesn't take a dynamic athlete or a basketball genius to feed the post. Coach Mack could have replaced anyone who was unwilling to force the ball to the post with Tim Whelan or Joe Schuessler, or a cheerleader, but instead Xavier fans had to watch their most effective player languish in offensive anonymity during a long stretch out of the half.
In the preview, I listed three keys to the game as pressuring the perimeter, protecting the ball, and pounding the post. This isn't the product of an inside man in Wofford or extensive scouting film; I look at the numbers, read the KenPom.com page, and try to figure out what the opponent is going to do. For some reason, two of the three items on that list seemed to elude Xavier in the vital second half. Travis Taylor's post touches all but dried up; some of that can be blamed on the Wofford defense, but the emphasis on feeding him wasn't there. On the other end, Wofford shot 7-17 from beyond the arc and was hitting threes throughout the game.
Semaj Christon played like a freshman today. Against a Wofford defense that was plainly daring him to shoot a jump shot, he was good for 10/3/8 with 4 turnovers and 3 steals on 5-9/0-1/0-5 shooting. After beginning the season very respectably from the line, he is riding an appalling 6-23 in his last four games. Until he is able to consistently hit a jumper, teams are going to hang off of to be able to cut him off on the drive. When he is able to get to the rim and collect contact, he has to be able to convert from the free throw line to take advantage of his athletic ability.
Erik Stenger is continuing to make his case for inclusion in the starting lineup. He went for 4/3/0 with two offensive boards on 2-2/0-0/0-2 shooting today. He is everything that Jeff Robinson and Isaiah Philmore are still struggling to show themselves to be this year. He has gone after every loose ball, scrapped for rebounds in the middle, and been opportunistic but low-maintenance on the offensive end. If he could improve a bit from the line, I'd be advocating for him to be getting even more minutes than I already am.
Isaiah Philmore had 2/4/1 on 1-4/0-1/0-0 shooting. Why Philmore is still shooting three-pointers is beyond me; he has not shown any sort of consistent ability to make them in a Xavier uniform. More worryingly, a man of his broad stature being intermittently anonymous in the middle is becoming a fairly common occurrence for the Musketeers. In a game in which Coach Mack said, "Travis needed some help in there," Philmore didn't provide any.
Justin Martin's concussion apparently jarred the progress out of him, because his performance has been all too familiar to those who saw him play last season. Coach Mack mentioned that Martin was not focused off the ball on defense today, and that was why he was on the bench down the stretch. His line of 4/2/1 on 2-8/0-3/0-0 shooting did not misrepresent his impact on the game. Xavier needs more out of him.
Jeff Robinson had 4/4/0 on 1-2/0-0/2-2. He also had one foul.
Odds and ends:
-Brad Redford had 6 points on 2-5/2-4/0-0 shooting, drilling two huge threes in the last minute to draw Xavier into a short-lived tie.
-Dee Davis had 5/2/2 with 3 turnovers and generally struggled to make an impact on the game.
-Xavier's inexcusable 8-16 from the line really hamstrung the team this game. Free points left out there are going to cost you close games; while this game shouldn't have been close, Xavier made sure they didn't win it by sucking at the line.
-Xavier had zero fast-break points against a team that they knew wanted to play the game slowly.
(My dad is an old-school basketball guy and a die-hard X fan, and he and I text throughout the games from time to time. His opinions can be both insightful and entertaining, especially pulled from their context. Below is a sampling of his offerings tonight.)
-"I like the uniform thing."
-"Tay is playing like a man!"
-"Why does Rob shoot from 17? I know that one went in, I'm just saying."
-"Love Stenger's hustle! On the floor again. I hope Rob is watching - from the bench."
-"Red is stone cold. I'll still bid on his jersey."
-"TT is looking smooth. Even making FT."
-"We need a good second half."
-"Why has Taylor not touched the ball yet? Another slow start."
-"Took 5:34 to get Taylor the ball."
-"We just look sluggish and disinterested."
-"Martin, what a bonehead! Jumping at a three-point shooter after he releases!"
-"Need a new coach."
-"Where is that squad from the first half?"
-"Missing FT again. No discernible offense."
-"Oh good, Semaj at the line."
-"From up 12 to down 4, unreal. No coaching, no FT, no adjustments! Mack needs to change seats with Dante."
-"This is embarrassing. One thing to lose to UC, but Wofford? After being up 12?"
-"What a butt!!! Why is Rob fouling?!!!!!!!"
-"Mack has to go. Robinson should not have been on the court! Give me Stenger, give me Amos, give me a cheerleader, but not Robinson! Later, dudes..."
That's it from me. If you still care at this point - and God bless you if you do - Xavier next plays at Tennessee at 6pm on Saturday 12/29. Stay tuned for Brad's recap, in which he will no doubt be livid.