Last night marked the 100th meeting between Miami (Oh) and the Xavier Musketeers and, unlike some of the games of the past, this one was not tightly contested. The RedHawks put up about 14 minutes worth of resistance before eventually crumbling completely. The Musketeers, on the other hand, warmed to the game slowly before playing some of their best basketball of this young season.
Xavier didn't start playing very well. Before the announcers had made their first attempt at fake chemistry or all the fans had settled in their seats, Semaj Christon had turned the ball over. Xavier actually spent a good deal of the early portion of the game turning the ball over, coughing it up six times in the first half, and five in the first ten minutes. The sloppy play carried to the defensive end, where the RedHawks made seven of their first 14 attempts and got clean looks at five three point tries.
That still left Miami holding only a 18-17 lead with ten minutes to play, which was when Xavier finally came alive. The RedHawks finished the half with a 3-11 skid from the field as the Musketeers defense suddenly tightened. On the other end, Xavier was on the way to shooting 15-28 from the floor for the half and suddenly started to open up a good deal of space. James Farr (11/11/0) keyed the run with two made jumpers, Dee Davis (15/3/5) buried a three, and Matt Stainbrook (10/5/1) chipped in two quick buckets. In the span of less than seven minutes, a one point deficit became a nine point lead.
It didn't get better for Miami from there. Xavier stretched a run across half time to 31-8 and put the game far beyond reach by early in the second half. After a relative quiet first half, Semaj Christon (13/2/8) scored seven in the second and, more importantly, made his final six attempts from the line. The Fox Sports One crew noted that, while Semaj had been struggling immensely from the line, he had told them not to worry, he'd figured things out. Hopefully the 6-7 from last night indicates that is actually the case. It's also worth noting that Semaj scored five of Xavier's first seven points out of the half. It was clearly a statement of intent to bury the game before Miami could regroup, and it was exactly what Xavier needed him to do.
The story after that was of a game that was heading towards an inevitable end. Admirably, Xavier kept after the game rather than giving in to the laziness that sometimes plagued them last year. Dee Davis scored eight straight, Jalen Reynolds (2/11/1) found Justin Martin (9/5/1) for a three pointer and rebounded relentlessly, and the team as a whole shot 15-31 to put the game well out of reach. A James Farr three pointer after two from Dee Davis was part of a game long 9-21 effort from deep, the most threes Xavier has made since the Fairleigh Dickinson rout last year.
While the competition wasn't stiff, Xavier still sent a solid message last night. Good teams don't let up against bad opponents, and the Musketeers avoided that trap with ease. There will be sterner tests along the way, but winning the games that you should win is the mark of a team with some talent. Xavier's hiccup in game four last year was the first indication that all was not well. This year, they emphatically dispatched a lesser team. Things are looking up.
-Is the three-guard lineup here to stay? Isiah Philmore's injured wrist may have changed things, but last night saw a return to a more standard starting lineup. Erik Stenger (3/2/0) started at the four but played only 13 minutes. Justin Martin started at the three and, while he can be a guard, functioned more as a forward. Brandon Randolph (6/1/2) and Myles Davis (6/1/1) played 22 and 23 minutes respectively, so the three guard line was very much in evidence throughout the game.
-How does Xavier matchup? Stretch fours killed Xavier last year, and Miami wanted their bigs to get looks from deep. Instead, Xavier challenged every shot and the RedHawks went 5-23 from beyond the arc. James Farr and Jalen Reynolds are both very long for an opposing big to try to shoot over. Blake McLimans especially was a complete non-factor in the game.
-How is Justin Martin? Even at his very best Justin Martin is going to look a bit detached from proceedings. Times like last night, when he went 3-5 from the floor and 2-2 from deep, that makes him seem like he's too cool to be flustered by the goings on around him. He's going to be frustrating at times, but Martin has a great deal to give to this team. 9/5/1 is a great line from a guy that does not have to score all that often for Xavier to win.
Tweet of the game:
Okay, so Kevin O'Neill has Xavier finishing in Top 4 and Providence in Top 5. That would make things interesting in March for StJ and Nova.— DJ Hodge (@XSP4) November 21, 2013
Just a little Big East rankings chatter.
Awesome infographic from Xavier SI: