This may finally have been the game that Coach Chris Mack and Xavier were looking for. Facing a George Washington team that had just demolished defending A10 tournament champions St. Bonaventure, the Musketeers put together as complete a performance as you are likely to see. Xavier outscored, outrebounded, out-assisted, outshot, and pretty much out everything elsed the Colonials. The only meaningful statistical category that GWU led was free throw percentage. Finally, Xavier just flat beat someone.
That's not to say it was easy. A 14 point Xavier lead with 11:12 to play shrank to a six point lead with 9:11 to as George Washington paired an offensive outburst with a trademark Xavier offensive lapse. Before that could turn in to a full fledged crisis though, Semaj Christon (21/2/7) buried only his second three pointer of the year to stretch the lead back to nine. The CBS Sports announcer said that it "felt like a dagger," and he was right. The Colonials were never able to scrape their way back to within two possessions for the rest of the game.
Xavier's large cushion came mostly from a first half in which they dominated George Washington in a way not seen since the first day of fighting at Long Island. (Too obscure? Little Revolutionary War humor). The elastic snapped when a fairly modest 8-2 run pushed a 20-14 lead into double figures with 5:22 to play in the half. Despite being without the services of Dee Davis, who is still nursing an injured wrist, and Justin Martin (2/2/1), who committed two early fouls, the Musketeers scored easily, making 59% of their shots. Notably, Semaj Christon kept the ball moving and accrued five assists, while Brad Redford (21/1/2) knocked down three three pointers. Redford hit his last three of the half to spark a 7-0 run that took Xavier into the locker room with a 35-20 lead.
Semaj Christon only scored six of his 21 in the first half, but it was his contributions that turned the game. Forced by Davis injury to run the point, Semaj regained some of the ball distribution confidence that had made him so dangerous early in the season. More importantly, he picked his spots to drive so exceedingly well that George Washington was forced into playing a zone. Christon's quickness was simply too much for any one Colonial to handle him in a man to man situation. Forced into zone, GWU got picked apart. Jeff Robinson (14/6/0) and Brad Redford were the primary beneficiaries of the shooting space, and they responded by going a combined 13-19 from the floor.
Redford's contributions, especially, verged on the spectacular. 0-2 from inside the arc, the senior guard put on a show from deep, going 7-8 and breaking the back of any attempted George Washington run. Frankenmuth, MI residents turned out in large numbers to have their picture taken with Redford, whose Sandy Hook jersey the town raised money to purchase. Whether he was responding to the vocal support or just locked in, Redford was unstoppable today, at one point scoring nine straight. Jeff Robinson, of all people, also knocked down a couple jumpers when passes found him in advantageous position.
Frequently those passes came from Travis Taylor (6/11/6). The 1-3-1 zone may have kept the big man from reaching double digits, but his ability to pass the ball out of the high post meant that the Musketeer offense had a hub in the middle. Taylor turned the ball over only once and dished out six assists as the zone collapsed on him. In all, Xavier assisted on 16 of 28 made baskets, a statistic that speaks to their commitment to keeping the ball moving.
As the game dragged into the second half the tired legs caused by two games in three days started to show. Landen Amos racked up another 20 minutes and demonstrated he is only a functional left hand away from being a scholarship player. With four of the five starters logging over 30 minutes it's no surprise that the legs required to get position on the boards started to fade. Xavier's 22-6 first half rebounding advantage faded to a 29-23 overall lead by the end of the game. The defense, though, was still stifling, holding GWU to 38% from the floor for the game.
By the time Tim Whelan dribbled out the win, the starters were getting some well earned rest and Xavier was 2-0 in conference. Coming up next is a four game stretch that will take this team away from the friendly confines of the Cintas Center on three occasions. If Xavier can bring the same intensity and defensive determination on the road that they brought at home then maybe, just maybe, the narrative of this season will start to change.
-What's the plan if Dee is down? Christon and Redford started in the backcourt and played a combined 69 minutes. In the times when Semaj wasn't available it was immediately apparent how thin Xavier is at guard. Thankfully, cramping wasn't an issue today and the Musketeers were never treated to the sight of defensive specialist Landen Amos at the point.
-Can Travis Taylor break down Isaiah Armwood? In the times when the Colonials did risk the man to man it seemed like Kevin Larsen got more of Taylor than the very unimpressive Armwood (6/6/0) did. And yes, Taylor can break Larsen down whenever he feels so led.
-Can Xavier find a rhythm on offense? 71 points on a .571/.800/.538 shooting line suggests that they certainly can. Somehow, the Musketeers managed to be worse at the line than they were from either the field or from deep, but the rest of the shooting was incredible. Teams won't often zone Xavier based on this evidence.