For the second straight game Xavier has a win in which the win itself was not the main talking point after the game. This time it wasn't the free throw shooting as the Musketeers went 21-30 from the line, but it was certainly related. This game was called as tightly as any that you ever likely to see. With an incredible average of only 42 seconds between foul calls, the contest became almost mind-numbing down the stretch. Whether that was the goal of the officiating crew led by Karl Hess or not is probably immaterial, but calling 56 fouls sucks the life out of any game and this one was no exception. Cleaning up the game is an absolute must, but if this is the only way to do it, it may not be worth it in the end.
Enough of that. For the sixth straight year Xavier has opened at 3-0. This one was a foregone conclusion from the moment the schedule was announced, but they all have to be played. With 8:49 to play in the first half it was clear that the Musketeers were aware that this game wasn't the one that they'd spent all summer working toward, as it took two Jalen Reynolds (11/6/0) free throws to propel the team to a lead they didn't relinquish. Prior to that, the young group had been rather clearly sleepwalking against an inferior opponent. Radio color man Byron Larkin called it "big game hangover," but it looked just like the regular kind of hangover.
Xavier closed that half on a 22-7 run that encompassed a 14-2 spurt that actually closed things out. In that stretch Jalen Reynolds went for seven and brought a screaming, chest-thumping energy that was woefully lacking from his teammates. Whether the big man sparked them alone or not, the Musketeers looked like a machine as the half closed. Dee Davis (7/5/9) and Semaj Christon (20/1/5) took turns finding each other, Justin Martin (8/2/0) scored half of his points for the game, and was alert enough to grab a steal, and the depth of the team told against an Eagles squad that was simply outclassed.
The second half started with a Martin miss, offensive rebound, and two made free throws. While the shooting from the stripe wasn't the big story today, that wasn't evident in the first half when the Musketeers were a terrible 11-19. That kind of shooting will kill this team in a big game at some point down the road. When you aren't a lock for an NCAA spot, throwing a game away with missed free throws is going to be gutting. Chief among sinners was Christon, who went 0-4. Coach Mack said that Semaj makes 92-94 of 100 in practice. Frankly, no one is going to care until he starts making them when it counts.
It didn't really count today though, because when the horn indicated that the first 20 minutes were done, it may have have well signaled the game. The Eagles were never going to make run, partially because they aren't very good but also because Xavier's defense was on point tonight when needed. When the game was still a theoretical contest the Musketeers held Morehead to 5-27 from the floor in the first half and kept the shackles on until defense wasn't really needed. All told the Eagles shot 29% for the game. Defensive efforts like that will be necessary against more talented teams down the road.
Most encouraging about the defense was the fact that it happened with a great deal of different personnel on the court. 11 Musketeers played tonight, with only Kamall Richards getting marginal time with his three minutes. Elsewhere James Farr (8/0/0) buried a three and continued his rise to prominence, Erik Stenger (4/1/0) was himself, Matt Stainbrook (7/10/2, three blocks) was effective without being a focal point, and Isaiah Philmore (10/2/1) had his best game of the young year. That rotation, plus Myles Davis (2/3/0) and Brandon Randolph (2/1/2) seeing time in the backcourt, guarded like a cohesive unit all night.
-Who can go for Xavier? Full strength tonight, the Musketeers went with a three guard lineup of Randolph, Dee Davis, and Semaj. Randolph limited himself with foul trouble but Dee looked solid all night. Myles Davis played with no sign of ill effects and Justin Martin seemed
dazed and confused normal.
-Who is Xavier's second-best guard? Before the game I thought this was close to laughable, now I'm not so sure. It's difficult to toss up 7/5/9 against anyone (except Fairlegh Dickinson) but Dee did just that. To add even more intrigue, Brandon Randolph had his worst game in a Xavier uniform and racked up three fouls and three turnovers in a first half he'll be trying to forget for awhile. For now, experience holds the edge here. It must be said that the offense didn't stall in the half court tonight nearly as much as it did in the first two games.
-Can Xavier's young forwards stay out of foul trouble? Farr had three and Reynolds only had two in a game that was called so closely that certain facial expressions were whistled as personal fouls. That's probably a good sign.
Tweet of the Game:
Awesome graphic from Xavier SI