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Xavier v. Rhode Island: Recap

19 and 12 would make me smile too
What happened: Xavier 72- URI 45

Xavier came out with an intent that was missing from the Shootout. Tu Holloway warmed up with a chip on his shoulder that left ESPNU's mediocre announcers talking about the attitude he was playing with until far into the second half. Kenny Frease and Jamel McLean were both active early and even Jeff Robinson looked like he might contribute. It was a contribution from a most unexpected source though, that turned the tide of the game.

X jumped to a 9-2 lead on the back of five early from Holloway and two quick offensive rebounds. It looked as if the team was finally ready to just run away with a game. Four minutes later, it was a 12-12 game after three straight turnovers. As I pondered when Spring Training might be starting, Andrew Taylor caught a pass from Dante Jackson, took one dribble to his left, and finished nicely in traffic. After a typical A-Tay grimace of approval, Xavier took off. 

Maybe it was the sight of someone known more for heart and hustle trying to shoulder the scoring burden, maybe it was the mildly inspiring athleticism of the move, or maybe it was pure coincidence, but Taylor's bucket seemed to bring out a Xavier team that has too often been missing in action this year. When Mark Lyons capped the 11-0 run with a free throw, the Rams looked a beaten team and Xavier was playing defense as if their very lives hung in the balance.

Jamel McLean finished the first half with 10 points and four rebounds. While those numbers themselves are impressive, it was his constant motion off the ball and around the rim that had URI off kilter. Kenny Frease was able to find space (and the free throw line) and Will Martel and Orion Outerbridge looked more and more like kids being dominated by a playground bully. When Jamel hammered down his third dunk of the first half, the score was 31-18 and Rhode Island was clinging to the hope of halftime.

Unfortunately for the hapless Rams, Coach Mack kept his men on task at halftime. The second half opened with Frease and McLean scoring 11 of Xavier's first 16 and grabbing six quick boards. Jordan Latham also contributed to Xavier's early second half domination inside with a bucket and two rebounds of his own. By the time URI adjusted, it was 47-29.

Rhode Island's adjustment wasn't a good one either. Down big and getting demolished inside, the Rams started to lift, and lift, and lift, and lift. By the time the buzzer sounded Rhode Island was an appalling 3-27 from deep. After their 4-23 performance against Florida, they may want to look into getting a bit closer to the basket. As the Rams chucked it from, and sometimes into, the cheap seats, Tu Holloway played himself into the game.

At some point during the requisite game time text messages, I noted to Joel that Tu was 3-7 from the floor but playing a very good game. Apparently not content with that, Tu tore into a by then complacent URI team in the latter stages of the game. In the last 8:31 Holloway scored 13 points without seeming to try. Not until he finally left the court for the final time did he flash anything resembling a smile. It was clear that he, and the Musketeers, came to do business.

Keys to the game: 
- X got good play from Jamel McLean (19-12-0) and Kenny Frease (9-5-3) and useful minutes from Jordan Latham. Post presence will decide games for Xavier, and it decided it early today. The game ended with Xavier holding a 38-10 edge in points in the paint.

- Only 14 turnovers. Allowing a poor shooting team myriad chances to find a rhythm can lead to late game runs. While Lyons and Holloway were again profligate, the rest of the team protected the ball and the lead.

Game balls:
- Jamel McLean keyed Xavier's success early and never let up. The senior is clearly not content to write this season off.

- Mark Lyons, just because he didn't shoot 16 times in an attempt to score. Lyons was still sloppy, but he showed signs that he may finally have realized he's much better off the bounce than he is spotting up.

Not so much:
- Jeff Robinson was abysmal again. Robinson seems to have all the physical gifts of a skinnier McLean and all the fortitude of the proverbial shrinking violet. Until he gets more physical inside he should get used to watching Jordan Latham.

Final thoughts:
- This could not have gone much better as a bounceback game. I was fearing a letdown from a team that looked like it quit late on Thursday and then allowed an early run today. Coach Mack seemed determined to not let that happen. His timeout with 6:48 to play in the game and 18 point lead was taken just to vehemently exhort the team to not lose focus on defense. It's moments like that that separate good coaches from great ones.

Next game: 12 Jan @ 7:00 vs. UMass