Chris Mack could count on that finger how many competent players were on the floor for Xavier tonight.
What happened: Temple 85 - Xavier 72
Last year, Xavier came into almost every game with reason to believe that there was a chance it was going to be a loss. After all, their best guard and best big man had departed to pursue paid careers. Nobody in the nation got fewer minutes or less production off the bench. Injuries and recruiting misses left the team depleted and limited. Despite going about four players deep, the smoldering intensity of Tu Holloway and the bracing leadership of Dante Jackson combined to have the team playing so well that you could almost forget their limitations. A team that had little business at the start of the season hoping to make the tournament won a six seed before bowing out to Sweet Sixteen bound Marquette.
This year's team is the exact opposite. Despite an embarrassment of on-paper depth, the team shows no ability to make it work on the court against good teams. Time and again this year, Xavier has come out of the gates looking unprepared and dug themselves a deep hole. Tonight's game was no different. Despite Laphonso Ellis' assertion that Coach Mack told him the team was locked in and ready to go, Xavier once again came out flat. This time, there was no coming back. You simply can't spot a Division 1 basketball team 20 points at the half and expect good things to happen. If this is how Xavier is going to play in the biggest game of the year, it's safe to say this season is dead and buried for the Muskies.
If there was a bright spot to take from this game, it may well have been the play of Tu Holloway. He finished with 23/3/2 on 7-15/2-4/7-9. When the rest of the team looked like quitting - and, with the exceptions of Redford and Wells, they did - Holloway continued to get the ball in his hands and run at the defense. The efforts of Xavier's indefatigable leader were too little, too late, however. On a night when X needed everybody, it got almost only Tu.
Dezmine Wells continued to show flashes of the potential that should have Xavier fans so excited about his time in Cincinnati. He went for 11/3/0 on 4-9/2-3/1-2 shooting. Wells still looked his best in the open court tonight, but he was able to set up and drill a couple of three-point shots on sets designed to get him to do just that. He's got a ways to go, but his work ethic and skill set should put him in a good position to develop.
Brad Redford got the start at the two and played 23 minutes, going for 5/0/0 with two steals on 2-2/1-1/0-0 shooting. He also avoided turning the ball over. Mark Lyons subbed in and played 27 mercurial minutes, putting up 15/6/4 but needing 4-15/1-6/6-6 shooting to do it. He also had two turnovers and no steals. There's no doubt that Lyons brings more to the table than Redford, but I wonder if he doesn't also take more off of it. His 11 missed shots and 2 TO tonight resulted in a lot of empty possessions in a game where Xavier desperately needed every trip down the floor. With the Xavier offense looking frightfully stagnant, Coach Mack has a real dilemma in choosing between throwing Lyons out there and hoping for the best and sending Redford in and avoiding the worst.
The real story of tonight's game, however, was Xavier's defense. The numbers in that department are absolutely grim. Temple shot .467/.450/.625, which actually represents a significant cooling off from the scalding pace Xavier was allowing earlier in the game. Compounding the problem was the Owls' complete dominance on the glass; they managed 15 offensive rebounds on only 32 misses. Temple is not a good offensive rebounding team; their ability to get to the basketball on their own misses represents a complete breakdown by the Musketeers. A lot of Xavier's offense relies on getting the ball out in transition after stops; when they aren't getting stops, it's up to the stagnant halfcourt offense to get the job done.
Odds and ends:
-Justin Martin had 4 points on 2-2 shooting but somehow managed to pick up 4 fouls in 11 minutes.
-Michael Eric and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson each had 6 offensive rebounds; Xavier had 7.
-Xavier somehow contrived to turn the ball over nine times in the first half and twice in the second. Temple had 14 points off of TO in the first half.
-The 14-17 mark put up from the line by Xavier was one of the few positives on the night.
-Jeff Robinson has disappeared back to wherever he briefly emerged from.
(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'm nervous. Kenny better show up."
-"Not looking good. Kenny still standing 30' from the bucket on offense. Lack of coaching."
-"I find myself hoping Rob gets in... wait, forget I said that."
-"This is shaping up to be a blowout."
-"Two FG in nine minutes."
-"Might want to play D; just a thought."
-"X is no longer king of the A-10 and will get no calls."
-"Maybe we will have a power failure and I won't have to watch."
-"Walk leading the comeback!!!!!"
-"Hey, how about Man U today?"
-"Three attempts on one possession, someone box out!"
-"Red from the first row!!"
-"Only Wells and Red show any life."
-"...not with a bang, but a whimper."
That's it, sports fans. With this loss, Xavier falls a game and a half back in the Atlantic Ten and off of the bubble. At this point, Coach Mack and the team need to spend the next few weeks working to figure out how they're going to win the conference tournament. Stay tuned for Brad's narrative recap Sunday morning. Xavier is next in action on Saturday against Dayton at Cintas.