Home improvement projects are not something at which our family excels. In light of what can best be described as a minor disaster at the Joel D household, there will be no Boxscore Breakdown of the Xavier v St Joseph's game. While this does mean that everyone will be deprived of the insight of our Dad, you can take some solace in knowing he was probably just livid anyway. We do apologize for the lapse in coverage.
It was hard not to be excited at some points during last night's game against St. Joe's. Jeff Robinson had clearly come to play, and he had brought Justin Martin with him. Plugged in, active, and willing to work, Xavier's two most enigmatic players were consistently impacting the game. Neither shot particularly well, but both shot frequently enough to matter and, even better, both were alert on defense and active on the glass. Yes, with Robinson and Martin ready to go, this could only end well for the Musketeers.
Except it didn't. Xavier scored four points in the last 8:04 of the game and watched their already slim at large chances take a hit from which they cannot recover. Even before the game ESPN bracket analyst Joe Lunardi said "They probably have to win the automatic bid. That's probably what they have to do." That was before Xavier blew yet another second half lead, before the Musketeers went 1-13 from behind the arc, before all the little things that have plagued this season finally conspired to all but kill it off.
The game wasn't always a nightmare in the making. Despite a terrible shooting night (34%) the Musketeers were able to keep the Hawks within catching distance thanks to some ferocious defense of their own. After weathering a barrage that saw St. Joe's make five of their first ten three point attempts, the Musketeers clawed back into the game. A Jeff Robinson (8/10/1) jumper 38 seconds before the half pulled Xavier back with four and gave the Hawks reason to think that this game that they should have buried early would turn into a contest.
While Xavier only managed 26 points in that first half, their defense only allowed 30. Serious effort from Semaj Christon (16/4/2) and Dee Davis (5/3/4) kept the Hawks from getting penetration and forced them gun away from deep. While the Hawks were connecting well, Xavier's domination of the boards early kept St. Joe from pulling away. St. Joe's left chances to put the game away early on the court because Xavier simply would not quit on defense. A 30-26 deficit felt like a gift as the teams headed to the locker room.
Sure enough, Xavier emerged seemingly determined to make the Hawks pay. A 9-0 run staked Xavier to a 35-30 lead. Momentum has swung, the student section at the cafeteria/gymnasium where the Hawks play had fallen completely silent, all that remained was for Xavier to drill a big shot and drive the final nail. Instead, the offense vanished into thin air. After Jeff Robinson whipped down a ferocious follow dunk of a Dee Davis miss, Xavier had six straight empty possessions with the game just begging to be taken. Brad Redford (0/0/0) missed a three, Justin Martin missed a three, the guards turned it over twice, and Travis Taylor (10/5/1) got rejectmugged by Halil Kanacevic. Still, the Musketeers somehow led 41-37 with 10:30 behind four straight from Semaj Christon. A win was still definitely possible.
But it wasn't to be. In that last 10:30 Christon scored another six as he tried everything in his arsenal to score. The rest of the team poured in a whopping two on 0-5 from the floor. Yes, five shots in 10:30. Semaj himself went 3-10 down the stretch and the entire team combined to turn the ball over six times in that dreadful stretch. To encapsulate, that's 3-15, eight points, and six turnovers when the game was in the balance. Two of Dee Davis three turnovers also came in that stretch, none more damaging than the brainless error he committed with 2:38 to play.
Thanks to Xavier's own stifling defense the Hawks had failed to capitalize significantly on the Musketeers' horrendous offense until a Carl Jones three finally pushed the home team ahead 50-49 with just over three minutes to play. Following another stop, Xavier got a chance to run a side out play after a silly Chris Wilson foul. The play worked perfectly to find Dee Davis wide open on the weak side with plenty of time to line up a momentum swinging three. Unfortunately, one of the reasons Davis was so open was that he had chosen to stand out of bounds. That inexplicable error gave the ball back to the Hawks. A mad scramble after a miss on the other end ended with a Langston Galloway three. Another Davis turnover and another three from Galloway and the game was effectively over. Just that quickly, so were Xavier's at large chances.
- Where is Dee Davis? Davis hadn't been effective since his return from a sprained left wrist and with Brad Redford mostly sidelined with the flu, the sophomore needed to perform yesterday. Instead, he dropped his post return shooting numbers to 5-19/2-10/2-4 with another three turnovers added to his tally. Davis did impact the game, but not in a good way.
- Can Travis Taylor be effective? Absolutely. Taylor's line of 10/5/1 isn't the stuff of legend, but even against the best defensive front line in the conference, possibly the nation, he went 4-8 from the floor and never looked overmatched. Too quick for the overweight Kanacevic (seriously dude, do some cardio) and tenacious enough to battle with CJ Aiken, Taylor's only shot after his bucket with 11:52 to play was a stickback dunk. Once again, Xavier forgot a big man who could have won the game for them.
- Can Xavier bounce back? For about 30 minutes they did very nicely. Actually, there was no sign of a post Charlotte hangover so much as just the usual issues once again dooming a game. Even more than bounce back, Xavier got a boost from the play of Justin Martin and Jeff Robinson. Losing a game where those two were both obviously determined to contribute is a huge blow to morale.
Before the game we pointed out that St. Joe's is 7-3 when their opponent turns the ball over on 15% or more of their possessions. Last night Xavier coughed it up 12 times in 61 possessions for a mark of 17.9%. Most galling is that the turnover that swung that particular balance was also the one that swung the game, Dee Davis' unforced error.
Next game: vs. UD, Wednesday at 9pm.