With 2:47 to go in the Jimmy Carter Classic this felt a lot like a story every Xavier fan has seen before. Dyshawn Pierre canned a three and it surely looked like once again Xavier was going to be made to pay for not putting a game away when the chances were right there. With one minute to go, Semaj Christon scored on a jumper after a beautiful hesitation and shot fake left Vee Sanford merely the closest observer. Kevin Dillard, with whom Christon had been exchanging verbal jabs, brought the ball down to try to complete his stellar half and put his team back in the lead. Waiting for him, clapping confidently, was Dee Davis.
We'll get back to Dee and his effort, but he was hardly the lone thorn in Dayton's side tonight. The Flyers came into the game averaging a +12 rebounding margin in conference games. That vanished tonight under a massive effort on the glass from Xavier. The Musketeers turned what had been a huge weakness all year into a crushing 38-16 win on the boards against a team that had every right to expect to dominate them. From the very start, the Musketeers fought the Flyers to a standstill on the glass. Dayton grabbed six offensive rebounds in the first period, only one of those did they turn into points. Jeff Robinson (12/5/1), in the middle of one of his vintage runs of form, was a large factor in keeping the Flyers contained on the glass. Robinson and Travis Taylor (8/11/2) didn't challenge many shots and instead focused on sealing their men and grabbing the ball.
That focus on the glass was evident early as Xavier limited possessions and eased out to a 19-12 lead. Dayton answered with a 11-2 run to retake the lead on a Matt Derenbecker three with 4:18 to play in the half. A Jeff Robinson drive and duck and five straight second chance points gave the Musketeers a 31-27 margin. Kevin Dillard, scoreless in the first half, buried two threes early and the game was again tied at 36 before an 11-4 Xavier run pushed the lead back out to seven. As CBS analyst Seth Davis astutely pointed out though, the price Xavier pays for a slow pace is being unable to bury games. Less than a minute later, Dayton was back within two.
Xavier's lead bounced between two and four from that point until 4:35, when Kevin Dillard finished his scoring efforts for the night with a three that cut the lead to 57-56. A single Semaj Christon (13/2/3) free throw was the lone point Xavier managed before Dayton finally took the lead. Just as important as Christon's step back in the lane with a minute left was the fact that Dayton didn't manage a rebound after they briefly took the lead. In fact, Dayton grabbed only six rebounds in the entire second half. When just one offensive board may have been all the Flyers needed to tip things back their way, they couldn't get one.
If you read Banners very much you've noticed that opinion on Dee Davis (14/2/3) is split around here. Where one person sees the ultimate glue guy being asked to do way too much, the other sees an undersized point guard being exposed. Dee was neither of those tonight, tonight Dee was the leading scorer, leading assist man, leading three point shooter, and a whirlwind of activity. More importantly, Dee was almost swaggering as he met Dillard with the clock winding down. An initial attempt at penetration was thwarted, as were two attempts to screen Davis off, Dillard found himself alone facing his tormentor with the shot clock ticking inexorably down. Dillard drive right but was walled off instantly by Davis, Dayton's point man worked back to his left but now, under extreme duress and with time waning, could only force up an off balance runner. Travis Taylor grabbed the rebound, but it was Dee Davis that simply locked Dillard up.
After that, things took a turn for the bizarre. Forced to foul, Dayton sent Travis Taylor to the line, where he missed. Normally that would lead to a rant on ineffective free throw shooting (7-13 on the game), but Taylor kept the ball alive for Jeff Robinson, who found Dee Davis, who was fouled. Davis, the Blackburn/McCafferty MVP, missed the front end of his one and one. No matter though, because Davis grabbed his own rebound and got fouled again. .CBS cameras cut to Dayton coach Archie Miller just in time to catch him asking "what the f--- is going on?" What was going was Davis finally making two free throws and Dayton instantly regretting their inability to execute the most fundamental of basketball basics.
Dayton still had a chance to tie the game, and they very nearly did. Coach Chris Mack ordered his team to foul in order to send the Flyers to the line and take away the chance of a tie. His charges, apparently relishing living on the edge with a 64-61 lead, failed to do so and a wide open Derenbecker came within a friendly roll of making them regret that. Two Justin Martin (8/5/0) free throws later and it was all over. The run of Xavier dominance of Dayton in Cincinnati now stands at 32 years. As the crowd chanted the name of Jimmy Carter it was easy to feel optimistic again.
-Can Semaj match Dillard? Dillard clearly thought he had the measure of Christon in the second half, but it was the freshman and not the fifth year senior that had the last laugh. Dillard finished 4-14 from the floor and didn't make a field goal that wasn't a three pointer. Frankly, he just wasn't that good. Semaj wasn't brilliant but, when his team needed him, he finished. Dillard didn't.
-Can Xavier take the pressure off of Dee Davis? Davis played 30 minutes and turned the ball over three times. That's about the extent of the negative you can say about him on a night when he seemed an entirely different player than the one that threw the St. Joseph's game away. Davis ran the offense, didn't let Dillard rattle him, and was as quick on defense as he has been all year.
-Who controls the pace? Dayton certainly wanted to run and Xavier certainly wanted to walk. The end result was a game played at a quicker pace than the Musketeers would have liked, but that was greatly mitigated by the rebounding dominance of Xavier. Had the Flyers gotten on the glass at all, their pacing tonight would've been too much for Xavier.
Tweet of the game:
11,709 days And counting.. See u later!! #32years— Dante Jackson (@DantejacksonXU) January 31, 2013
Next game: at Richmond, 6pm, Saturday, Feb. 2nd.