It wasn't pretty, and apparently it never will be, but Xavier rode a dominating second half from Travis Taylor to an important win on the road.
For the first 30 minutes last night, things looked dreadfully similar for the Musketeers. At that point Xavier had a seven point lead but had managed only 40 points and was looking nearly as hapless on offense as Rhode Island. In the first half Xavier had as many made free throws as made field goals (7) but outpaced both of those numbers with their turnovers (8). Semaj Christon had started 2-8 from the floor and, as per the norm, a monstrous Travis Taylor was being forced to fend for himself down low. Thankfully for the Musketeers, the tone of the game changed after that.
This was never going to be a beautiful game because Rhode Island plays at nearly as slow a pace as do the Musketeers. Still, the teams seemed determined to make it as painful as possible to watch for fans of either side. Xavier jumped to a 7-0 lead that Rhode Island answered with an 11-0 run of their own. As the Rams pulled in to the lead, Xavier wasted seven straight possessions without a score. The Musketeers also managed to go six minutes without a field goal in the span and ended up trailing 14-8.
While it would be nice to write that Xavier woke up and stormed back into the game, that's not exactly the truth. A 10-3 run pulled Xavier back into an 18-17 lead, but it was Rhode Island that led 23-22 at the half. The first half was just deplorable for both teams in terms of offense. Xavier's 7-22 from the floor was equaled in ineptitude by Rhode Island's 7-26 with a glittering 2-12 from deep. The teams also combined to turn the ball over 14 times and commit 20 fouls. It was not a half for the basketball connoisseurs out there and it ended with Semaj Christon (16/7/1) forcing a shot attempt against two defenders while James Farr stood alone in the corner.
In the first half the teams were deadlocked on the glass at 18 apiece. Xavier Munford, the only Ram who could really keep the game close, had already scored 12 on 4-10 shooting while Xavier's high scorer, Christon, had four points on 1-7. It really looked as if the offensive nightmare of the Dayton game was going to repeat itself against much worse opposition.
It didn't though, because Xavier finally made some adjustments. The start of the second half wasn't artwork either, but it opened the door to incremental improvement. Tied at 30 with 16:31 to play, Xavier finally got Travis Taylor involved off of something other than an offensive rebound. He responded with a dunk, and a layup a short time later, and Xavier went on a 12-3 "run" (it took seven minutes) to bring the game to 42-33 with 9:13 to play. Astonishingly, that non-spurt was enough to finish off Rhode Island, who went into one of the great shooting funks of our time. Another 13-6 "run" (this one encompassing nearly all the remaining time) finished the game off as the Rams shot 2-22 from the 15:10 mark to the conclusion of the game. That, coupled with an equally impressive 1-16 from deep was all it took for the Rams to lose.
Part of the reason the Rams were unable to miss an even more alarming number of shots was the work of Travis Taylor (13/17/0). Taylor scored three points and grabbed four boards in the first half, then dominated the game in the second. The 13 rebounds he grabbed in the second period were more than the entire Rams team, who staggered in with 11. More than just the number was the method with which Taylor collected boards. He was consistently above the pack, raking the ball in one handed, or ripping it down with a vengeance. As the half wore on, Rhode Island's front line looked legitimately afraid of venturing into the Xavier big man's domain. Taylor added to his dominance of the glass by scoring ten points on 4-6 from the floor. Why he didn't get even more shots is open to debate, but even six is a positive sign.
Part of the reason Taylor was able to control the game in the second half was the willingness of the guards to stop shooting. Christon went 3-5 on the half and looked completely different from his ill-fated attempt at hero ball against Dayton. Dee Davis (3/2/4) was 0-1 and unimpressive offensively, but spent most of his time in the sconed half harrying Munford into 1-7 from the floor. Three of Davis' assists came in the second half and Christon's commitment to slowing things down a bit was evident in his 6-6 (8-8 for the game) performance from the line down the stretch.
In all, it wasn't the dominating win that many fans may have expected. Xavier's offense was fitful at best and their effort in the first half wasn't above reproach. Still, it was a road win and it came on the back of Travis Taylor finally getting shots and the defense finally completely throttling someone. In fact, Xavier's defensive efficiency rating of 65.4 was their best since a 61.1 annihilation of IUPUI Fort Wayne in November of 2008. There is, at least, again some reason for hope going forward.
-Can Xavier show up on the road? Yes and no. The offense was bad again, playing one of their most ineffective games of the year. The defense, on the other hand, was suffocating and borderline historically good. Showing up probably consists of more than one facet of the game going well, but it was a win, and that is what matters.
- Will the Muskies feed the post? Yes, kind of. In the second half Xavier finally started looking inside and letting the forwards dictate the game. The forwards responded by going 7-16, which isn't great, but 16 field goal attempts in a half from the bigs is a massive step in the right direction. And it only took 25 games!
- Who wants to lead? Travis Taylor. A 13 rebound game is impressive, a 13 rebound half is a step even past that. Taylor just owned the paint in the second half when it was absolutely vital that Xavier get things together and win the game. Best of all, Semaj and Dee recognized what was happening and get the big man the ball.
Next Game: v. VCU, Saturday @ 2p.