This game was about the efforts of a lot of individual players, and they'll each get their due, but we're going to start with the showing of the team's defense when Xavier's grip on the game seemed to be slipping. At the 13:24 mark, UC was on a 6-0 run, had cut the lead to 10, and was making Xavier look incredibly shaky on both ends. Over the next 10:32, Xavier's dfense held the Bearcats to 4 points on 1-10/1-5/1-4 shooting with 3 turnovers. That 16-4 run spurred by defense effectively buried the game as a contest. That is what it looks like when, in the parlance of the program, you zip someone up.
Beyond that, the conversation on this game is going to start with Justin Martin. Xavier's insanely talented but vexingly inconsistent wing came to play from the word go tonight, and it was his inspired performance that led X. He went for 17/5/2 with a steal on 5-9/3-5/4-4 shooting. He had 4 turnovers (but who didn't?) and serious foul trouble (but who didn't?), but I can't imagine what would have happened if Martin hadn't come out hot. Beyond what his stat line looked like, he was incredibly active tipping balls and playing tough defense. If he can keep this up, Xavier is a different team.
Against a team that needs to rebound to score, Matt Stainbrook's effort tonight was incredible. He went for 7/11/2 with 4 steals and was the key to the press-break for Xavier, running up the middle of the floor to provide an outlet. Ten of his eleven boards tonight were defensive, many of those against more than one Cincinnati forward. UC usually rebounds more than 43% of their own misses; tonight they were under half of that rate, and it was the Stain Train setting the tone in the middle as the shots came off the rim.
Can't say enough about James Farr's work tonight. In last year's Shootout, he played one minute and posted a 0/1/0 line with a turnover on 0-1/0-0/0-0 shooting. This year he fouled out, but he collected 10/6/1 and no turnovers to go with his 5 fouls. His shooting line of 4-4/2-2/0-0 came on vintage Farr plays: two pick-and-pop threes, two stickbacks as he attacked the lane late on a missed bucket. The only explanation I can come up with is that Cincinnati simply looked at last year's box and decided they didn't need to scout the young man's tendencies.
Semaj - who is usually a lot higher on the page here - was limited by foul trouble all game tonight. Depending on who you ask, four or five of his five fouls were on exceptionally questionable calls, but he found way to influence the game in his brief time on the floor. He was 3-7/2-3/0-0 on his way to 8/2/2 on the night. His 4 TO in limited time are alarming at first glance, but consider that three of those were on offensive fouls calls that were fairly obviously blown. If Semaj had been officiated tonight the way he has been for most of the year, he would have lived at the line.
I'm not usually one to complain about officials - especially not after dominating wins over hated foes - but it bears mentioning hw bad tonight's squad was. Mick Cronin threw a fit on the sideline in the first half in response to a clear foul on Sean Kilpatrick and got stuck with a technical foul for his troubles. From that point - 4:42 left in the first half - until there were 5 minutes left in the game and it was clearly over, the refs called 14 fouls on Xavier and 5 on UC despite the fact the Cinci was showing some form of defensive pressure or another the entire time. I learned from the film Bambi that if you can't say something nice you shouldn't say anything at all, so I've told my editor to remove this sentence mentioning how absolutely cowardly I thought the officials were tonight.
Dee Davis shot 1-4/1-2/0-0 tonight, which was not spectacular. With his teammates raining buckets around him, though, all he had to do was keep the ball moving and out of Bearcat hands (paws?), and he did just that. His final line of 3/0/4 doesn't fully indicate how vital he was for X tonight, though his total of only 2 TO certainly hints at it. In a game in which his scoring was not needed, this was a vintage Dee Davis performance.
I was going to end there, but what the heck, it's been a good night. Noted three-point marksman Brandon Randolph (1-17 from deep on the year coming into tonight) was forced to be on the ball breaking the press when Dee and Semaj were in early foul trouble, and he did an amazing job. He had 3 TO, but he didn't commit damaging errors in the back court and his sheer speed and ability to shift directions with the dribble kept UC from fighting back in with Xavier's starting guards observing. His final line of 8/4/1 came on 3-6/2-3/0-0 shooting, but it was his three with the shot clock winding down and Cinci within ten in the second half that shifted the momentum of the game and slid Randolph into Shootout lore for X.
Odds and ends:
-Jalen Reynolds picked up a foul before the clock could move when he first checked into the game. He came in on a second FT by Stainbrook and promptly mugged several Bearcats going for the rebound.
-Isaiah Philmore overcame a shaky start to go for 6/2/1.
-Jalen Reynolds ran down a UC fast break in the first half for a monster swat; watch for it on ESPN.
-Xavier had 16 assists on 22 made baskets, including 10 on 13 in the first half.
-Myles Davis shot 2-2/1-1/0-0 on his way to 5/1/3 with no TO. UC defenders were sprinting at him on the perimeter, and he was able to drive past them and hand the ball off to his teammates for layups.
-"Martin mystery on the wide-open layup."
-"We are really shooting/making threes."
-"I am stunned by how Farr has improved."
-"Bad, bad calls on Semaj."
-"This kind of makes me nervous."
-"TO and fouls will be our undoing."
-"Saint Mick with a T; shocking!"
-"Bad, bad call on Martin."
-"Ten TO and still winning."
-"They are starting to warm up."
-"Bad, bad, bad call on Semaj."
-"Man, it's feeling shaky."
-"I would leave Semaj on the bench. Give me Sweet Music."
-"Preparing myself for the meltdown."
-"Bad, bad, bad call on Martin. Must be Cronin's uncles officiating."
-"This is unreal. That was an awful call; why no calls on UC?"
-"Let's get up 23 with 9.3 to go, put in the starters, and have Semaj tell the UC bench about it."
That's it from me. We'll have the Sunday Conversation up tomorrow, and then Brad will run his recap once the dust has settled and we have a chance to evaluate things on Monday. Cheers.