It wasn't a runaway, but Xavier once again did enough to beat an inferior team. As the Atlantic 10 enters the stretch drive, just winning is enough.
It wasn't pretty, it wasn't all that efficient, and it wasn't one to show a burgeoning basketball fan, but Xavier did what it needed to do in knocking off the Fordham Rams on Wednesday night. With that win, and some help, Xavier moved into a tie for third in the conference and, more importantly, into position for a first round bye in the Atlantic 10 tournament.
Like I mentioned though, it wasn't pretty. An early 11-0 run staked the Rams to a 15-8 lead with 13 minutes left to play in the first half. While that left 33 minutes for the Musketeers to erase a relatively insignificant deficit, it was an indictment of the way that Xavier has approached the beginning of the last two games against overmatched opponents. Twice in a row Xavier has played a team that had no business being in the game with them and, twice in a row, Xavier has let them hang around to the point that things get a bit uncomfortable.
To the Musketeer's credit though, this time they answered before digging themselves too big of a hole. A Brad Redford (6/0/0) three and a Semaj Christon (19/2/5) layup woke the offense back up. Two made free throws from Semaj kicked off a 16-6 run with 7:24 left. When another Redford three made it 38-28 with around a minute to play in the half it looked like Xavier would have a chance to cruise away with a win. Four straight Rams points before the buzzer sounded and it was apparent that Xavier was going to have to put forth a bit more effort to kill the game off.
Still, that shouldn't have been too difficult for the Musketeers. The offense was clicking in ways it rarely has all season, Justin Martin (16/7/0) was active and aggressive, and Brad Redford was back to his defense stretching best. Of course, that wasn't to be the case. The game hovered in the 8-10 point range as every brief Xavier run was answered by one from the Rams. With 9:41 to play the lead had again stagnated at 48-42 when Justin Martin was fouled and headed to the line for two. martin converted both of those and the Musketeers followed that by scoring eight points in 1:28 to run the lead to 56-42 with 8:13 to go.
Just as quickly though, the Rams got the game back to within ten and proceeded to keep it there for the next six minutes. After scoring eight points in barely over a minute, Xavier took five minutes to score their next ten. Fordham didn't set the world on fire, but they stayed in the game as the Cintas grew more and more nervous. With two minutes to play, the Rams drew back within six on a Mandell Thomas drive. Thomas, who was averaging eight points per game and shooting less than 40% from the floor, scored 23 on an 8-15 shooting effort and kept the Rams in the game.
Fordham, as did Duquesne before them, began sending the Musketeers to the line. As against Duquesne, the Musketeers actually made free throws when they mattered. Six makes from Semaj and Dee Davis (10/3/4) and a layup from Chirston were added to a thunderous dunk from Landen Amos to give Xavier the 10-3 spurt they needed to put the game away. It wasn't pretty, but it counted. 7-3 in conference and winning the ones they have to, Xavier is still in with a shout.
Joe Lunardi hasn't released and S-Curve that reflects the win over Fordham, but winning games like this one don't do anything to boost a resume. According to the latest bubble work from Lunardi:
OUT (15, in S-Curve order): 69. Stanford, 70. Arizona State, 71. St. John's, 72. California, 73. Villanova, 74. Boise State, 75. Maryland, 76. Brigham Young, 77. Alabama, 78. Southern Miss, 79. Bucknell, 80. Arkansas, 81. Washington, 82. Florida St, 83. Massachusetts
Xavier is still notably absent from the group of teams that comprise even the very end of the bubble. Still, the opportunities are coming to grab the kind of marquee wins that get a team into the conversation.
Conference Bye Chances:
Here, Xavier is looking much better. While the Musketeers were winning, Butler lost to drop down a line into the cluster of teams at 7-3. With La Salle tied with Xavier, the Musketeers have the advantage of holding the tiebreaker on boat least one of the teams they are tied with. VCU plays UMass tonight with a Minutemen winning landing both of those teams at 7-3 as well. It's still a logjam, but winning never hurts.
-Is JMart back? It surely looks like it. Martin racked up 16 points, but his seven rebounds demonstrate more the amount of effort Justin has put forth recently. Xavier is a vastly different offensive team when Martin is aggressive and engaged. The 79 points the Musketeers put up (granted, Fordham is awful defensively) are the most since the 117 against FDU. That's the kind of impact Martin can make.
-Is Isaiah Philmore for real? While probably no longer qualifying as just a rumor, Philmore didn't follow up his breakout game with much of anything to report. 0-3 from the floor but 3-4 from the line, Isaiah was essentially what he had been up to this point: 20 minutes, three points, four rebounds, meh.
- Can Redford resurface? Yes. 2-5 from deep doesn't make anyone a shooting hero, but it is enough to make a defense stretch out and react. When that happens, everything opens up. Semaj gets driving lanes, Travis Taylor (10/9/2) gets post up space, Just Martin gets room to shoot, and the world is just a better place in general.
Next Game: @UD, Saturday at noon.