Good teams, tournament teams, find ways to win games when they don't play their very best. Xavier, to be sure, was not at its best last night. The numbers jump off the page to anyone who could stomach looking last night: 9-17 from the line, 5-20 from deep, 11 turnovers in a possession shortened game, 1/5/0 from Jeff Robinson, 6/2/3 in 37 minutes from Dee Davis. It was the kind of game it would be nice to win, forget, and move on. With 15:21 to play, Xavier led 43-30 and it looked like 7-1 was inevitable.
Part of the reason that seventh win was looming so large was the completely ineffective way that Vanderbilt was trying to play basketball. The Commodores didn't score for the five minutes spanning the end of the first half and into the second, prior to that, they had "runs" where they scored one point in four minutes, and another four minute shutout. Confronted with a solid Xavier defense, Vanderbilt was only staying in the game by firing away from the three point arc, finishing 9-27 from deep.
The game went back and forth for most of the first half. Despite the well executed white out, the crowd seemed nearly as listless as the home team. A ragged first half started open up around the six minute mark as Justin Martin scored eight straight Xavier points to stake the team to a 22-17 lead, with Vanderbilt really only in the game because of their deep shooting it felt like one good push from Xavier would finish the game off, even that early. Martin scored again two minutes later to put Xavier up eight with a chance to really take some momentum into the half.
That didn't happen though. Kedren Johnson scored ten points in the last 3:38 of the half to keep the Commodores within six as the game went to the half. Justin Martin, who Xavier very much needs to step up and take some of the load off Christon, scored ten in the first half and showed an aggression completely missing from his game last year. If the first half was about Justin Martin though, the second was about the growing realization that Vanderbilt had no one that could stop Travis Taylor. Taylor scored seven straight to open the half and gave Xavier their first 13 point lead, 40-27, at the 17:11 mark. An and one from Justin Martin two minutes later kept the lead at 13, got the crowd back into the game, and looked like it gave Xavier the impetus to pull away. It didn't.
That was the end of the scoring on the night for Martin (he finished with 13/5/3) and it was fully five minutes before Xavier scored again. By that point, the lead was down to seven and Vanderbilt was now the team showing signs of life. By the time Coach Mack called timeout at 11:40, the lead was down to three. Still, not all was lost. Semaj Christon(12/1/5) made his lone impact on the game with quick back to back baskets to push the lead back to seven. Xavier responded to that by going the next 3:20 without scoring.
It was then Isaiah Philmore's (11/10/1) turn to go on a five point run to put Xavier back up five over the combative Commodores. After two Kevin Bright free throws cut the lead back to three, Xavier remembered Travis Taylor was on the floor and he rewarded that by stretching the lead back to five with 5:22 to play. From that point, Xavier didn't score again in regulation. A lot stands out about that drought. Travis Taylor was completely unplayable in the second half of the game, scoring nine points in the post on six shots. Somehow, Xavier's guards and coaching staff failed to recognize the obvious and didn't feed him the ball. Nearly as impressive is the fact that Xavier allowed only two field goal makes in the last ten minutes of the second half and somehow blew two separate five point leads.
In that 5:22, Xavier possessions ended in a Davis miss, a Redford miss, a Christon miss, a Davis turnover, an 0-2 from the line for Christon, a Martin miss, and a Christon miss. Travis Taylor and his nine second half points didn't get a shot, neither did Isaiah Philmore, who scored 11 and finished 4-8 from inside the arc. Xavier's offense just completely stagnated. Dee Davis continued a long stretch of games where he has looked timid and fearful under any sort of pressure, and willing to settle for long threes rather than attack the defense.
The overtime period felt like a bit of a formality with Justin Martin injured, Semaj Christon and Travis Taylor in foul trouble, and Jeff Robinson back in 2011. Still, another five point Taylor (15/4/0) run had the Musketeers up two with 2:24 to play before Kyle Fuller ripped off ten to put the game away for Vanderbilt. Xavier continued the out of sync and disjointed offense that had characterized the second half, and they ultimately paid the price. A loss like this one is bad in the present and will look bad come March. Xavier needs to get things back on track before Kent State, or this season will be gone in a puff of smoke.
-Can Semaj guard Kedren Johnson? Johnson got 19 on 8-16 from the floor. Semaj and Davis switched between Fuller and Johnson and it was quickly apparent that Davis could not guard either of them. Christon was gain let down by his body when he cramped in the second half, but even before that he was looking a bit tired. His defensive effort wasn't awful, but he wasn't a stopper either.
-Can one of Xavier's forwards establish himself? Two made an effort last night. Isaiah Philmore put up 11/10/1 and banged relentlessly. He is the only one of Xavier's forwards apparently unconcerned about physical contact. Travis Taylor was aggressive and confident in his shot and put up 15 points and would have had 20 if someone would have gotten him the ball. His rebounding number (4) was unimpressive and that is part of the reason Xavier and Vandy tied at 29 on rebounds.
-Can Dee Davis re-find his game? No. Calling Davis awful might be a stretch, but he wasn't much better than that. 2-7 from the floor, 2-6 from deep, and three assists to three turnovers is not inspiring stuff. More concerning is the turnstile type defense Davis is playing right now. For Xavier to have any chance, he has to get back going. Right now, he's abject.
Next Game: v. Kent State, Sunday @4pm