Free throws, free throws, free throws. Today, Xavier 23-33 from the line and won the game. It really is that simple sometimes, and today was one of those times. You can say all you want about Dee Davis, Semaj Christon, Myles Davis, and why it tooke overtime to beat the Falcons but today's win begins and ends at the free throw line. Finally, the Musketeers executed one of the simplest facets of the game well.
That's not to say the Musketeers did everything well, because they didn't. Bowling Green played a large lineup most of the night while foul trouble kept the Musketeers small. Partially because of that, the Falcons scored 19 second chance points while Xavier only managed two. Along those lines, Xavier was also outrebounded by a margin of 12. The issues that plagued Xavier in the Bahamas also manifested themselves in the form of 14 rebounds, 10 of them in the first half.
In that first half, Xavier overcame the turnovers and general sloppiness by shooting 53% from the floor. After an excruciatingly slow start that left the two teams at 15-14 with under ten minutes to play, the Musketeers started to pull away. A James Farr (15/9/1) eight point run made the lead 29-21 and let Xavier take a deep breath and finally start to bury the Falcons. Only, they didn't. BG went on a 12-0 run in the last 4:22 of the half to take a 33-29 lead to locker rooms at halftime.
After the half, Xavier took less than five minutes to take the lead back. A surge from Justin Martin (5/6/1) steadied the ship at first, and then Isaiah Philmore (15/1/0, hello Allan Houston) took over as much as foul trouble would allow. Once again, the Musketeers started to exert themselves and began to pull away from what should have been an inferior team. After Philmore made two free throws with 5:49 to play, Xavier was up 11 and once again in position to put the game to bed.
And once again, they didn't. Xavier's bigs were limited due to the rather strict interpretation of the rules that this crew (who wasn't extremely bad) had. With a lineup of Farr, Martin, Davis, Davis, and Christon on the floor for the end game, Bowling Green began to just bully their way back into the game. Offensive rebound, layup, offensive rebound, layup, layup, dunk, two more offensive rebounds, and another layup, and the Falcons had a 67-66 lead as Xavier's smaller lineup and foul plagued bigs simply couldn't compete.
That came completely to roost when, with 19 seconds left, Spencer Parker grabbed an offensive rebound and forced Xavier to foul Anthony Henderson. Henderson made one of two free throws to give Bowling Green a two point lead. When Semaj Christon (22/1/3) drove the lane on the other end, the Falcons wisely grabbed him and sent him to the line. Somewhat shockingly, he made both free throws to send the game into overtime. Just last week Joel mentioned that a big concern with Semaj having the ball late in games would be his struggles from the line. Today, that wasn't a problem.
In overtime, Semaj just attacked the rim relentlessly. Finally, Xavier's talent gap won the game. Semaj racked up six points, an assist, and only let go of the ball when he found open teammates. One of those teammates was Myles Davis (14/4/1), who drained two three pointers and two free throws as the game was finally decided with a five minute 17-5 run in the overtime. It was grim, but they all count.
-Who is Xavier's second best guard? Well, Dee Davis went for 8/6/8 in 37 minutes and only turned the ball over three times. So, just when it seems as if Myles Davis is the second most valuable guard, Dee recovers from his disaster of a trip over Thanksgiving. Of course, Myles iced the game and scored 14. There are worse dilemmas to have.
-Who are the starting five? Christon, Randolph, Martin, Philmore, and a very limited Matt Stainbrook started today. Randolph (0/5/4) wasn't remarkably effective, but he didn't turn the ball over at all and was really only limited by increasingly concerning shooting woes. I'm not certain who will hold down the two and three spots for the year, but Philmore and Stainbrook provide an awful lot of punch inside, with Christon being a fixture at his hybrid guard spot. James Farr is a threat, but can't stay on the floor, and Mack seems reluctant to go with either Davis if Randolph is available.
-Which JMart will we see? The same one we always do. Martin always provides flashes of exquisite skill, and today was no exception. He also lingers on the periphery way too often, and today was no exception to that either. Coach Mack simply has to walk the tightrope with JMart every game.
Tweet of the Game:
Drew has me on this one, and I'll admit it. In my season preview I didn't forecast anything like this for Farr, and I was clearly wrong. More than just the numbers he's putting up, it's the way Farr is doing it that is endearing him to fans.
Awesome Xavier infographic: