USA TODAY Sports
Xavier took a big step forward by riding tenacious defense, a resurgent Semaj Christon, and timely shooting to a big win over Temple.
I believe it was noted philosopher Fred Durst who said "with the good comes the bad, the bad with the good." I'm not entirely certain what Mr. Durst meant by that, but if he was referencing the good and bad that come with watching a young basketball team coalesce, he was spot on. Recently Xavier has played some horrid basketball and Semaj Christon has been a big part of that. last night conference play started, and the freshman guard came to the fore for all the right reasons.
This game was never going to be an easy one for Xavier. Temple is bolting for the Big East after this season, and they take with them a reputation for being difficult to beat anywhere. The Owls beat Syracuse, demolished Bowling Green, and then barely lost at Kansas in the run in to the Atlantic 10 opener. When compared to Xavier's four straight losses and a disheartening effort at Wake, things didn't look good. Thankfully, games aren't played on paper.
Some games aren't played on television either. Thanks to some bafflingly poor decision making by the Atlantic 10, a regional sports network that hardly anyone gets ended up carrying what has long been the marquee conference matchup. With no way of seeing their team in action, Xavier fans resorted to rather inventive means of following the game.
@bannersparkway I pad and laptop, I heart radio on the IPad— MasterofReality (@MOR_XU) January 11, 2013
Once fans got things figured out by whatever means of electronic wizardry were available to them, they tuned in to a game that started as badly as everyone had a right to fear. Xavier's first four possessions went block, turnover, miss, miss. On the other end, Temple was scoring efficiently enough to make a long night seem very possible. Instead, Xavier's guards decided this was the opportune time to return to early season form. Semaj and Dee each assisted on a basket before driving and creating their own. Dee's converted free throw gave Xavier an 11-7 lead and got the crowd inside the Cintas fully into the game.
This wouldn't be Xavier if something didn't go wrong though, and it did with 7:14 to play. Xavier was leading 20-15 at the time and sophomore guard Dee Davis was a major reason why. Davis was everywhere on defense but, more importantly, was keeping the ball moving on offense. The stagnation that had set in during the four game skid was nowhere to be seen as passing and actually cutting made a reappearance in the game plan. With Davis orchestrating, things were looking up. However, a loose ball scramble ended with Davis underneath several people considerably larger than him. A minute later, Dee left the bench and headed for the locker room. Almost instantly, Temple threw full court pressure at freshman Semaj Christon.
Christon had scored only two at that point but immediately set about putting his stamp on the game. A quick jumper stopped a 5-0 Temple run and a thunderous dunk put Xavier back up 24-19 with four minutes remaining in the first half. Once again though, the offense suddenly slammed to a halt. Three possessions came and went without points and Temple tied the game right back up. Christon answered again with a drive for two and Travis Taylor kicked out of a double for a Brad Redford three. Xavier led 29-26 going to the half, but Dee Davis was nowhere to be seen and Khalif Wyatt had just finally gotten on the board.
Wyatt had to be a large part of Xavier's game plan for the day, as he came in averaging over 16 points per contest and pretty much running the Owls offense. To end the first half, he simply walked the ball down the court and pulled up to score bloodlessly. Wyatt getting hot would be a huge problem for a Xavier team now down yet another guard. Sure enough, Khalif scored with a slashing run to the rim just after the half and Temple jumped into the lead almost as if they had been resting for the first 20 minutes. A 9-0 came and went in the first 2:20 of the half and the Musketeers went from a three point lead to a six point deficit almost without a fight.
This game though, Semaj Christon had come ready to play. He showed an improving mid range game by draining a jumper and then went coast to coast under control to force a foul and finish two free throws. When Justin Martin came up with a steal and finished with a pull up 10 footer, Xavier had tied the game and, possibly, vanquished the second half collapse demons. After that, things got very ugly. Both teams locked the other down on defense, Semaj Christon exited with cramps, leaving Landen Amos to initiate the offense, and the level of play began to drop.
It's been said all season that Xavier will win when they can score. After Christon kept the Musketeers in the game with a tremendous scoring and passing effort, the offense went south without a ball handling guard on the floor. Again though, an absolutely ferocious defensive effort kept the Musketeers in the game. For nearly eleven minutes after their initial 9-0 burst, Temple scored only four points. Khalif Wyatt never got the chance to get up and running because walk-on shot blocker extraordinaire Landen Amos simply made him disappear. Wyatt finished the game 2-11 and spent the second half with Amos functioning essentially as his shadow. Slowly, Xavier's offense also began to wake up.
With 8:45 to play a 19-2 run culminated with Travis Taylor's two made free throws staking Xavier to a 48-37 lead. Temple was unwilling to go that easily though, and took only three minutes to drag themselves back within four. Leading 50-46 with 5:30 to go Xavier got a tip in from a rejuvenated Justin Martin and then seven Travis Taylor free throws to seal the deal. Taylor's 7-8 down the stretch was enough because the defense simply refused to quit. Dee Davis, his left hand bandaged heavily, re-emerged with a minute to play and sealed off Khalif Wyatt to grab the clinching rebound. For one night at least, the good heavily outweighed the bad.
-Can Semaj and Dee get their game back? Yes. The guards combined for 19/3/5 on 8-18 from the floor, but those numbers don't really reflect how well the young backcourt was playing before Davis went down with his injury. Christon had to do a lot of heavy lifting in the second half, and he handled it fairly well. Davis coming back on the court with a hand that he was clearly afraid to use speaks to the heart that he has. Most encouraging of all, the tandem played 41 minutes and turned the ball over only twice.
-Will Xavier commit to the post? Also yes. The shots taken by bigs (13) may not show it, but Xavier made it a point to get the ball down low early in possessions. The offense wasn't exactly beautiful last night, but Temple is a great defensive team in their own right. Travis Taylor missed his first two free throws but salted the game away by going 7-8 down the stretch as the guards just kept getting him the ball.
-What's going on with Justin Martin? 10/5/0 on 4-11/1-5/1-1 isn't encouraging in the usual sense, but it shows that Martin was finally willing to take some ownership of the game again. One thing Justin has been all year is relentless on the glass, and he was again last night.
Next game: vs George Washington (7-7) at 4pm, Saturday the 12th.