Video highlights included at the very bottom of the page. These come complete with the radio call, so make sure you catch them after you read the article.
Star players come in all shapes and sizes. Xavier's star hasn't shouldered a lot of the scoring load this year as he's deferred to the talent that has come into the program since last season. In the last two games though, Semaj Christon has poured in the points right when his team needed them the most. Tonight, with Marquette threatening to win a game they had no business being in, Semaj killed them off.
Xavier ended up needing a hero because Marquette did something they hadn't all year, buried outside shots. The Golden Eagles entered the game shooting 30.5% from behind the arc and proceeded to knock down 11-27 from deep. Jake Thomas served notice by making two threes in the first two minutes on his way to going 5-11 for the game. That led to an Eagles 8-2 that Xavier began to battle back from almost immediately, rather than go 1-13 from the field like they did against St. John's.
The first half went back and forth until a Myles Davis (2/1/1) free throw and a Semaj Christon (28/3/2) layup keyed a 13-2 run that gave Xavier a 36-28 lead with 2:48 to play in the first half. A Davante Gardner tip at the halftime buzzer pulled Marquette within six at the half but Xavier seemed to have things well enough in hand. Starting the second half with six straight points reinforced that feeling and another Justin Martin (15/8/0) jumper left Xavier up 11 with 16:35 to play in the second half.
The game went back and forth for a couple of more minutes until Marquette started chipping into the lead. Flashbacks to last year undoubtedly went through the minds of many Xavier fans as Marquette started making three pointers and pulled back to within and was back within two with 11:14 to go. By 7:11 the lead was gone completely. Somehow, a team that scored a grand total of 49 against Creighton had dropped in 62 in only 33 minutes against one of the best defenses in the nation. Xavier's inability to force turnovers isn't usually a problem because their defense is so adept at forcing teams to miss shots. Tonight, though, Marquette wasn't missing shots and Xavier only forced six turnovers. Stops were at a premium as the teams combined for 91 second half points.
Shortly thereafter, there were five minutes left to play in a tie game. The Big East's lone ranked team at the start of the season was facing the newcomers who sat at 2-0 and had looked very tough to that point. A Marquette win would look like order being restored, a Xavier victory and there would be talk of the Musketeers in the upper crust of one of the nation's biggest conferences. Semaj Christon had spent the second half playing defense and keeping his teammates involved while Xavier fans kept waiting for him to take the game over. Unlike the killers (Jordan Crawford, Tu Holloway) that came before him, Semaj didn't do that by grabbing the ball and going into attack mode. He kept waiting and wait and then, with five to play he struck.
The one thing Christon doesn't do well, according to the scouting reports, is shoot the three. Give him space, and maybe he won't shred you going to the rim all night. That plan backfired tonight though, when with exactly 4:16 to play, Semaj canned a three. On Xavier's next possession, he drive hard the baseline left and then stepped back and rose over two defenders to bury another one. As the sophomore drifted back toward midcourt he held the three aloft before slicing his hand down like an executioner's axe. There was 3:18 to go, but Marquette were dead men walking.
Bonus paragraphs: Wouldn't that have been an awesome ending line? I'd have ended the article there but the game ended somewhat bizarrely. With 22 seconds left and Xavier up six, Justin Martin went high above a crowd to grab a defensive rebound. As he landed, he ripped the ball through to get it into the triple threat position. Martin was fouled but his elbow made solid, and apparently incidental, contact with the jaw of Juan Anderson. Anderson, understandably, staggered backward and went down. Martin was called for a technical, which left us with the sight of a player who had been tech'ed up shooting two free throws.
Xavier regained the ball with 17 seconds to go and a Myles Davis free throw made the lead 84-77. Davante Gardner threw down a meaningless dunk with four seconds left and that seemed to be it... Only it wasn't. Despite facing a five point deficit with just under four seconds to go, the Golden Eagles pressed the inbounds. Coach mack disgustedly called timeout, turned to the crowd and clearly mouthed a bemused "sorry" and set his team. After Dee Davis (13/3/6) was fouled and made two free throws, Xavier applied a full court press. The handshake between Williams and Mack was longer than normal and words of some sort were exchanged. I'd be interested to hear what either coach thought of those last four seconds.
- What's going on here? I'm even more lost on Marquette now. This was certainly the best game they've played in conference, but they lost it. They've now beaten DePaul, George Washington, and no other team ranked above 221st. That seems incomprehensible based on the game they played tonight. Incidentally, if Davante Gardner didn't earn a full-time starting spot tonight, Buzz has well and truly lost it.
- Who wins on the glass? Xavier, and convincingly. The Musketeers, according to the earliest available box scores, won the battle on the glass 39-20. Xavier missed 22 shots and grabbed offensive rebounds on 11 of them. Considering that Marquette was allowing a 29.7% offensive rebounding rate entering the game, that's phenomenal. Even with Matt Stainbrook (7/8/3) limited to 22 minutes by foul trouble, X crushed on the glass.
- Will Xavier open the tap from outside? Surprisingly, no. Two of Xavier's first three shots were threes (both missed) and after that they attempted only 11 more against one of the worst teams in the nation at defending the perimeter. The Musketeers did make six of those 11, but their offense ran so efficiently that they never looked like expanding the gameplan to include more outside shots was something they'd considered.
- Dee Davis was excellent tonight. He drew Jake Thomas as a defensive matchup some of the time and consistently made the bigger man shoot over him. Credit to Thomas for going 5-11 from deep, but Dee very nearly matched his scoring output and was rock steady in dishing out six assists against only one turnover.
- Semaj also had a turnover, his first first in 140 minutes. That's just incredible.
- Jalen Reynolds (2/5/0) and James Farr (10/4/1) provided a total of 25 very useful minutes off the bench. It's Farr that has become a key cog in the team, but Reynolds reined in his incredible urge to foul tonight and contributed solid minutes.
- I have no idea how the TV contract works or anything like that, but Fox Sports One must surely wish that they hadn't let CBS grab Sunday's tilt in Omaha.
Cool Xavier SI dept infographic:
Tweet of the game:
Butler just wouldn't lose so now I missed the whole first half of the Xavier game. My hatred has been renewed once more @BannersParkway— Andrew Powell (@bald_so_hard) January 10, 2014
Andrew takes the win today by finding one more reason to hate Butler. When you can do that in a game against Marquette, you get tweet of the game.