The Xavier Musketeers emerged from a miserable off-season a shell of the team they thought they would be. Without Dez Wells, Mark Lyons, Myles Davis, and Jalen Reynolds, the team seemed destined to struggle from the outset. Instead, the Musketeers jumped out to a 6-1 start and convincingly beat Butler. Semaj Christon and Dee Davis were leading the offense, while Travis Taylor still showed the inconsistency that plagued his junior year. Still, 6-1 was cause for a great deal of hope down at the Cintas Center. Then, December happened.
4. The Swoon
Xavier opened December by beating Purdue on the road. That feat was followed by a chance to beat a down Vanderbilt team without having to leave home. Instead, Xavier went 5-20 from deep and 9-17 from the line and somehow lost to a dreadful Commodores team. To make matters worse, the resurgent Justin Martin went down with a concussion late in the game. Kent State was the next team to enter the friendly confines and the Musketeers briefly righted the ship behind a 44 point second half and 14 clutch points from Brad Redford.
Next came the neutral site Crosstown Shootout and an absolute hiding from the hated Bearcats. Semaj Christon followed his early season plan of cramping up late in the game, and a knock to Dee Davis left Brad Redford handling the ball against UC's defense. 15 turnovers and a 3-14 showing from the line later, and Xavier was 7-3 and starting to slide. Jeff Robinson was about to follow up an apathetic performance in his last Shootout with something far worse.
The Wofford Terriers are not a good basketball team. Knowing that, Coach Mack and Mario Mercurio lined them up as some home court cannon fodder after the always challenging UC game. The Musketeers, however, failed to respond. At the half Xavier, sporting their Sandy Hook jerseys, led 34-22 and were at least being decent enough to beat a terrible. Inexplicably, they collapsed in the second half. If there was a 20 minutes that heralded the end for Xavier this year, it may have been this one. While Travis Taylor battled valiantly on, his teammates, without exception, were terrible. A Brad Redford three pointer with eight seconds left tied the game and gave Xavier a chance to escape with some dignity intact, but Jeff Robinson, in the stupidest play of his infuriatingly inconsistent career, fouled on the inbound and Xavier watched in shocked amazement as Wofford walked away with a win.
Undaunted by voices saying that the worst was surely over, the Musketeers lost two more on the trot. First, in what I called "a corucopia of misery, ...nothing but a pulchitrudinous exhibition of abhorrent basketball" they managed 47 against Tennessee and lost gruesomely in a game that inspired nothing but nausea and rage. Not content with only ruining Christmas week, Xavier opened the new year by somehow losing to Wake Forest. In that game Travis Taylor went for 18/10/0 and only got five touches in the last 20 minutes. With the season crashing around him Taylor was emerging as a matchup nightmare as he entered the torrid streak that marked his last 22 collegiate games.
The team that had started 6-1 was nowhere to be seen. Now 7-6 and playing the kind of basketball that leads to 20 turnovers against Wake Forest, Xavier looked dead in the water. Semaj Christon was terrible from the line and running over defenders like Adrian Peterson, Justin Martin's concussion had set him back a year, Dee Davis had proven unable to consistently get the offense going, Isaiah Philmore himself was beginning to question his existence, and Jeff Robinson was still Jeff Robinson. This season though, nothing seemed to turn out how anyone thought it would.
Xavier could hardly have staggered into conference play looking any worse than they did. Worse still, the first contest was against Temple. Of course, the Musketeers went and won the game. Walk-on Landen Amos stifled Temple star Khalif Wyatt into only five points on a 2-11 shooting day, Semaj came alive for 16/2/2 on 7-15 from the floor. In front of the home crowd, Xavier started the A10 season 1-0. Two days later, Brad Redford put on a show for a group of fans who traveled in from his hometown of Frankenmuth, Mi to collect the Sandy Hook jersey that had won in auction. By the time it was over, Redford had a career high 21, Semaj had thrown up a 21/2/7 line, and George Washington had been dispatched easily.
That game was followed by a trip to defending Atlantic 10 champion, St. Bonaventure. Xavier once again emarked on their soon to be patented scoring drought to blow an eight point lead and let the Bonnies back into the game. This time though, the offense managed to come back to something resembling life just in time. Christon scored eight of Xavier's last 14, went 7-9 from the line, and blew past his man for the game winning bucket. Landen Amos sealed things with a block, and Xavier escaped Olean at 3-0 in conference. Going 4-0 though, looked impossible after La Salle opened up the next game by jumping on the Musketeers 20-9. Ramon Galloway buried a three to grab that 11 point lead and the Cintas fell as silent as it had been all year.
Then, Xavier cranked up the defensive pressure. In the next 15:44 of game time, the Explorers would score just 11 points on 3-17/0-4/5-10 shooting and 8 turnovers. Landen Amos harried Galloway whenever he caught the ball and kept La Salle from ever effectively setting the offense. The Explorers tried time and again to rally, but Redford, Robinson (of course), and Christon all scored in double figures and kept the game from getting too close. A 70-63 win and the Musketeers were 4-0 and atop the Atlantic 10 with 12 games to go.
Those 12 games, and the Atlantic 10 tournament, would define the season for Xavier. Fans had no way to reasonably expect anything from this team, but what happened next was still surprisingly disappointing.