Memphis had the size advantage, but still couldn't contain Travis Taylor. - Joe Robbins
A Top 25 team once again came to the Cintas and lost. But, as it has been all year, it was a tale of two halves.
Xavier has been inconsistent, flighty, and hard to predict all year. Good halves follow bad ones, and bad ones follow dominant performances. I'll wager that tonight will be more of the same and, to present that more honestly, will recap each half as it happens. Here then, is the recap of the Xavier v. Memphis tilt, one half at a time.
FIRST HALF RECAP
Sometimes, I can't figure out college basketball. Those times, like when Kansas steals a game due to terrible officiating or Xavier comes out and plays a half like this, are why I keep watching. On paper, this half could have been a disaster for the Musketeers. Dee Davis didn't even make the bench, two fouls for Travis Taylor, significant minutes for Brad Redford, James Farr seeing the court, and a game that don't matter are not generally in the recipe for a nice half of basketball.
Tonight though, they somehow were. Travis Taylor absolutely dominated the game (11 points, 7 rebounds) before he grabbed that second foul. Brad Redford was 2-4 from the floor, and Isaiah Philmore fought through a litany of injuries to add seven points of his own. Most notable though, was the intensity. When we asked earlier today on Twitter if you would rather see Xavier in the NIT or just done, responses were split. That question arose because this game, meaningful when it was scheduled, now only matters as far as Memphis avoiding a bad loss and Xavier getting on the NIT bubble. That's not exactly what either AD or team had in mind when this one hit the books.
Ignoring that though, Xavier came out an attacked the game. A 26-12 rebounding advantage, 11 second chance points, and only four turnovers belied the fact that this was a team coming off a massive collapse in a game that would have been a huge boost to win. Instead of an emotional letdown, the Musketeers were energized, vigorous, and seemed determined to show a national audience what even an understrength Xavier team can do. For at least 20 minutes, they did just that.
- Can Dee go? Nope. It would have been a waste to risk a player who increasingly seems to be the heart of this team on a game that doesn't matter. Dee is 50/50 for the UMass game at the time of this writing.
- How will Semaj bounce back? 1-6, 3/1/3. Christon has been aggressive thus far, and a couple of his misses came with the caveat of serious contact. It will be interesting to see if he recognizes the excellence of Taylor and steps back in the second half to make sure the big man gets the ball.
- Whither Travis Taylor? Trav was absolutely unstoppable in the first half. 11 points on 5-9 from the floor and three offensive rebounds barely begin to describe the extent to which the big man wrecked the Tigers on the inside. If Taylor comes back out like that, this game is as good as done. Assuming, of course, he gets the ball.
Second Half Recap
True to form, Xavier came out and had an absolute shocker in the first 12 minutes of the second half. Isaiah Philmore (15/6/0) made it a 13 point lead with a layup on Xavier's first field goal attempt of the second half. It took the Musketeers near as makes no difference 11 minutes to score their next eight points. Travis Taylor (18/10/1) missed three shots in succession before two more points from Philmore. Then, Xavier went miss, miss, Taylor dunk, miss, turnover, miss, turnover, turnover, miss, Taylor layup, two Christon free throw misses, Philmore layup, miss, miss, miss, turnover, two Stenger missed free throws, and turnover before things finally got going again. If your eyes glazed over in there, that's 3-14 from the floor, 0-4 from the line, and five turnovers in a 10:52 span.
Of course, that means that Memphis roared back and took the game away, right? Not exactly. The Tigers, apparently in awe of Xavier's effortless haplessness, were very nearly equally bad. Still, they drew to within 41-33 and then started burying threes. By 6:29 Memphis led 50-49 on the back of five three pointers in the span of 3:23. Chris Mack was bursting blood vessels in his efforts to implore his team to play tighter defense but in truth it didn't matter, the Tigers were locked in. Perhaps shocked by their own proficiency in that burst, the teams combined to score four points in just over two minutes to set things up for a wild and bizarre finish.
Xavier snatched back a 53-52 lead when noted marksman Jeff Robinson (8/6/1) buried a three with 3:59 to play. DJ Stephens answered on the other end to put Xavier right back behind the eight ball. Semaj Christon (13/5/5) tied it at the line but then dribbled himself into trouble, never looked to pass, and eventually missed a shot and a tip when given the chance to put Xavier ahead. Joe Jackson, quiet for most of the game, raced the other way and gave Memphis the lead right back.
Xavier regained the advantage, missed more free throws, and was clinging to a 60-59 lead when Joe Jackson got loose again. Brad Redford (10/3/1) was tasked with guarding the quicksilver point from Memphis and, God bless him, he tried. Jackson destroyed Redford with a crossover and found a wide open Chris Crawford, who missed. Taylor's obligatory 1-2 at the line pushed Xavier's lead to two and Redford would make it four after another Memphis miss. Redford was again stranded on Jackson with the clocking ticking into single digits but this time the Tigers guard missed a three. When the ball bounced out to Xavier, the game looked all but over.
It wasn't though, because it was Justin Martin's turn to do something worldbeatingly unintelligent. In perhaps the worst play of the season other than Jeff Robinson's foul against Wofford, Martin inbounded the ball from the sideline to directly under his own bucket. Even worse, he lobbed it. Worse yet, he lobbed it to Joe Jackson, who had not executed the extremely rare in game transfer with immediate eligibility. Jackson converted the layup and Xavier went from salting the game away to heading back to the line. After Christon made one of two, memphis heaved the ball long, where Travis Taylor was waiting to hack DJ Stephens. Stephens made the first and only after he caught all glass with the second could Xavier finally accept the win.
Notes: The reason I did the recap like this was to further highlight the inconsistency of this Xavier team. A first half marked by fire, aggression, and intelligent play was very nearly erased by a second half that featured none of those. Xavier lost the battle on the boards by six in the second after winning by 14 in the first half. 20 rebound swings like that, to say nothing of going 11-20 from the line, are indicative of a team that simply cannot focus long enough to close out a game. Thankfully, tonight Memphis sleep walked through 33 minutes and couldn't quite find enough when it mattered. That doesn't change the fact that these halves did not represent an solid whole, but rather another disjointed and frustrating effort in a season now full of them.
- Will Semaj bounce back? Kind of. 4-13 from the floor, 5-10 from the line, and still too concerned with getting his. The youngster did manage five assists to only one turnover, but that was partly because he ceded duties at the point to Brad Redford.
- Whither Travis Taylor? Taylor was a monster again. His lack of production in the second half was a bit more his fault this time (missing dunks doesn't make your teammates want to feed you), but he still put up 18 and 10 against guys carrying 40 more pounds than he does. His reaction when Memphis turned it over late told you all you need to know about how much Trav cares.
Tweet of the Game:
What a bonehead inbounds by Xavier. Justin Martin, right?— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanCBS) February 27, 2013
Next game: v. UMass, 2p, Saturday