When the season started Joel and I both sat down and tried to project where it would god. We both ended up having Xavier making the 12 team Atlantic 10 tournament with an 8-8 conference record. Back in October that didn't seem so bad. Then the season started 7-2. A blowout over an awful team was followed by a win over one that everyone thought would be good. Purdue, admittedly not having their best year, was another early victim. Then came December and a horrific wakeup call. But, somehow, four games into conference play hopes were again up. All Xavier had to do was win six or seven of the last 12 and that first round bye, and maybe still an at large bid, were locks.
Well, consider this a second wakeup call. Xavier now looks to be locked in to 8-8 with a very daunting task ahead of them to make the NCAA field. Even more depressing, today started with some hope. Xavier hit the visiting Minutemen of UMass hard right off the inevitably lost tip-off. Exactly four minutes in Xavier was up 10-2 and chest bumps and high fives were being exchanged after a UMass turnover led to the first tv timeout. The first hint of negativity snuck into the game when Coach Mack received a technical for arguing a very soft call against Erik Stenger (1/5/1). No matter though, the Musketeers just kept adding to the lead.
Brad Redford (13/3/0) buried a catch and shoot three to make it 19-8 with 12 to play. Shortly after that two Justin Martin (9/3/0) free throws pushed the lead back out to nine at 20-11. That was to be the high water mark. An 11-2 UMass run eliminated the lead in the next three minutes. Trey Davis, blessed with the stroke of a remarkably frail junior higher, somehow pushed/heaved in the first of his two three pointers to cap the run. Another Davis three made it 25-24 and gave the Minutemen their first taste of the lead. Xavier pulled back out to a 33-28 lead before Freddie Riley tossed in a three to bring the Minutemen right back.
Then, Derek Kellogg got a technical. With two minutes to play in the first half, both head coaches had been tech'ed up and it wasn't immediately apparent that either of them had done anything outside the norm. Xavier rode that little added scoring opportunity to a 35-34 halftime lead. Travis Taylor (10/8/1) had nine points, Xavier had a nine rebound advantage, and UMass had coughed the ball up eight times already. All those things were looking good. Worryingly though, the Minutemen had already launched 11 three pointers and weren't really being pressured into stopping. Having blown 17 and 13 point leads in their last two games and having already surrendered a nine point cushion here, Xavier was playing with fire if they kept letting UMass shoot.
UMass loves the three pointer. They get nearly 30% of their points from it and take threes for 36% of their shots. The Minutemen just keep shooting until someone makes them stop. In the second half today, Xavier could not make them stop. The first three ball arced in with 17:30 to play and in the next five minutes, UMass added four more. Xavier didn't wilt though, and when Isaiah Philmore actually made a couple of free throws, the Musketeers took back a 46-45 lead. UMass just kept shooting and shooting and shooting from deep though. A Brad Redford three made it 49-47 before the Minutemen responded with threes on three straight possessions.
The barrage didn't stop there. For reasons known mostly to themselves, Xavier still refused to run out at shooters. Riley buried the sixth three of the half with 11:11 to play to push UMass to a 61-54 lead. Xavier came back behind Semaj Christon (17/2/6) and Dee Davis (2/2/2) and cut it back to 63-60.Unimpressed, Riley buried another three and the deplorable Terrell Vinson sank one on the next possession. Philmore answered with a three of his own to make it 69-65, but Xavier was now playing at the pace and with the style that the Minutemen wanted. Freddie Riley finished off the fusillade with 3:11 to play and put Xavier down six.
At that point, the Musketeers were out of ideas and answers. Taylor and Redford both missed and the deficit grew to eight. A Semaj Christon burst closed it back to four, but Travis Taylor's fifth turnover of the afternoon put an end to the resistance. Ultimately, the Musketeers doomed themselves to a four wins in four days scenario simply by failing to know their opponent.
- Taylor or LaLanne? The big men put up 10/8/1 and 9/8/1 respectively, but LaLanne and a combination of Vinson and Raphaiel Putney combined to harry Travis Taylor into five turnovers. For the first time in a few games, Xavier's big man did not seem dominant when he had the ball. Actually, in the second half, it was difficult to prove he existed.
- Will Semaj handle the pace? Yes, and actually quite well. Christon looked for his shot a bit, but still managed 5-12 from the floor and only turned the ball over three times in 39 minutes. When you factor in his six assists and the fact that he had very little help handling the ball it all adds up to a good game for the freshman.
- What can happen? Well, winning was kind of important here. VCU demolished Butler and Temple snuck past Rhode Island, so Xavier now sits seventh in the standings with Saint Louis and Butler remaining on the schedule. The first round bye is pretty much out of the question at this point and, if things break right, Xavier could see Temple or Butler in the first round in Brooklyn.
Terrell Vinson may be a huge punk. With 14:34 to play in the game, he took some hair from Isaiah Philmore and hit the deck as if afraid paralysis lay somewhere in his near future. A clearly befuddled Philmore was given a technical before the refs consulted the monitor and noticed a lack of any appreciable contact. As simulation (playacting, whatever you call it) is apparently permissible in the Atlantic 10, Vinson wasn't punished for his shenanigans. Philmore was, rightly, sent to the line instead, but the incident was bizarre in the extreme.
Tweet of the Game:
@bannersparkway never going to happen. And trust me I'm the most positive person I know— Robert Vogler (@vogcinreds) March 2, 2013
Next game: v Saint Louis, March 6th @ 9p