When Andrew Nicholson decides it's hero time, there's no stopping him.
What happened: St. Bonaventure 67 - Xavier 56
For five minutes, this game looked like it was being played between two teams that were playing their third game in three days. Jumpers were being left short or rattling out from being shot too flat, both symptoms of a lack of bounce in the legs. Demitrius Conger managed to miss three layups in one possession, which doesn't reflect well on anyone involved. Andre Walker split two free throws after the first media timeout. After five minutes, each team had five points and nobody was playing well.
Then Andrew Nicholson realized that he was a senior with his career on its last legs and blew the roof off the place. The Bonnies' Canadian forward hit two threes, a jumper, and a pair of free throws and blocked two shots in the ten-minute, 24-8 run that would end up defining the game. During that time, Xavier's defense more or less came apart. Both of Nicholson's threes were essentially uncontested. Xavier twice fouled a Bonnie shooting a three-pointer and twice allowed St. Bonvaenture to grab an offensive rebound. By the time X found its legs, the team was on the wrong end of a 16-point gap with halftime approaching.
X found their offensive rhythm in those last five minutes, but went into the half down 13. The first 90 seconds of the second half saw Xavier avoid scoring and St. Bonaventure grow the lead to 17 points at 41-24. Then Xavier zipped 'em up. For the next nine minutes, no Bonnie not named Andrew Nicholson scored and X embarked on a 17-4 to put the visitors on their heels and the game right back in doubt. Just when X was a stop from bringing the game within a single possession, Demitirius Conger spun into the lane, collected contact, and hung in the air and banked it home for a traditional three-point play. All credit to Conger and no shame to Xavier's defense; with the season on the line for the Bonnies, he made a big-time play to snatch a bit of momentum back.
The Musketeers brought it back to within five on a couple of occasions after that, but the fire had gone out of the game. St. Bonaventure made enough plays down the stretch to win the game and the automatic bid as Xavier - playing for the third time in 39 hours - couldn't muster the pathos to climb all the way back. By the time the Bonnies banged home seven of eight free throws to seal the game down the stretch, both teams began to realize what everyone else had come to accept: the Bonnies were winning this game, and the Atlantic Ten was going to be a four-bid league.
I usually focus mostly on Xavier players during this feature, but today belonged to Andrew Nicholson. His heroics in the campus-site game last year went more or less unnoticed because his teammates let him down. Today, he took even fewer chances, posting a mind-blowing 26/14/1 with 1 steal and 8 blocks on 7-13/2-4/10-10 shooting. You simply can't ask very much more from a player than Nicholson offered his team today. With his team's fate vascillating between the glory of the automatic bid and the ignomy of the NIT, Nicholson answered the bell and dragged his mates to the tournament.
There's not much else to say about this game now that the brackets are filled. Big Kenny struggled, due in large part to Nicholson's heroics on the defensive end. Tu and Cheeks combined to shoot 9-27/2-9/9-12 and score 33 points. I wouldn't worry too much about either of those performances. Xavier's dance ticket was already punched, and the team was playing an opponent that was more desperate and slightly better rested. At this point, take the loss for what it was and start thinking about the games this week and weekend.
Odds and ends:
-Brad Redford got three minutes and missed his only three-point attempt.
-Andre Walker grabbed 11 boards, including 7 on the offensive end.
-Bonnies other than Andrew Nicholson shot 13-38 (34.2%).
-Xavier had only 7 assists, a symptom on getting too dribble-happy on the offensive end and missing a ton of jump shots.
(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.)
-"It would be good to win."
-"BK getting on the floor after it!"
-"Walk, come on man."
-"Got to get Wells going."
-"That Nicholson kid has potential."
-"Smart of Tu to jump at a shooter."
-"I am having trouble becoming emotionally invested in this game."
-"Nice to see Tu can dribble. And dribble. And dribble and dribble and dribble..."
-"Keep driblling, Tu."
-"Can we still miss the tourney if we lose big?"
-"PIG with your little brothers [at the half]. I'm the champ; still got it."
-"Break up the Bonnies!"
-"Gotta have Wells."
-"Need to box out. Still."
-"Wells in the open is poerty in motion."
-"Missed two more layups and Wells gets called for an unbelievable foul."
-"Nicholson is killing us."
-"BK airball FT!"
-"Now to wait and see..."
That's that on that game, gang. The loss obviously didn't kill the Muskies. Dancing time, baby.