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Xavier v. Temple: Recap

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What happened: Xavier 88 - Temple 77

It was that kind of first half for Cheek
In a game that had all the pre-game markers of a defensive duel, A-10 fans were treated to an absolute barn-burner instead. Temple came into the game making barely 30% of their threes, then connected on 11 of their first 22 before airballing their last three (!) attempts from behind the arc. Xavier had also been struggling from distance but went 8-13 as a team, good for 61.5%.

Ramon Moore came in as Temple's leading scorer, but Mark Lyons did a brilliant defensive job on him all game. Temple's offense struggled to find a rhythm early, but Scootie Randall came to the Owls' rescue. His first four shots took him over his season average of 8.8 points, and he had Temple's first eleven points on his way to 17 in the first half and a game-high 28. Without Randall's hot start, X's 16-11 lead could have been 16-0.

Xavier's coaching staff had apparently singled out transition opportunities as the way to unlock Temple's stingy interior defense. Jamel McLean consistently beat Lavoy Allen down the court, establishing great post position and scoring transition buckets. Allen was quickly in foul trouble and ended up spending most of the game on the bench. Kenny Frease and Andrew Taylor were also consistently beating Temple's bigs down the court, providing scoring opportunities for the Muskies.

The officiating was pretty touchy all game. There were 38 fouls called in all, many of them light hand checks or ticky-tack stuff in near the basket. Jamel McLean and Dante Jackson were both particularly unimpressed with some of the calls that were made, and I have to imagine that Lavoy Allen felt the same way. The nature of the officiating probably favored X slightly if it helped anyone, but neither team seemed to be enjoying it too much.

Tu Holloway and Cheek split the responsibilities as primary scorer by half. Cheek shot 6-8/2-3/0-0 in the first half to score 14 points; Tu then shot 4-9/1-2/5-6 for 14 second half points. Tu ended the game with 21 and Cheek 19. Dante's 8-4-2 came with two steals, no missed shots, and no turnovers, and both of his three-point baskets came amidst big Xavier runs.

This was a nip and tuck game throughout. Xavier looked ready to put the game away up 16-8 in the first half and again up 61-51 in the second half. Temple came back to tie it at 16-16 in the first and 66-66 in the second; credit to the Owls for fighting back twice in a very tough environment. Fran Dunphy kept his team from folding, and they were in with a chance down three with 3:45 left.

Xavier kept a cool head though, showing great offensive patience. Big Kenny was fed on the post and converted a couple of big free throws, and then Cheek knocked down a couple more. The game was effectively over when Lyons grabbed a tip-out of a Tu Holloway miss and dragged the ball back to half court to burn another 35 seconds. Temple was forced to go more than a minute without the ball, and when they got it back they were faced with a six-point deficit and only 90 seconds to come back. They didn't.

Game balls:
-Tu and Cheek: The guards went for 40-14-9 with only 5 turnovers on 13-25/5-10/9-10 shooting. They took turns carrying the team's scoring burden, and Lyons played great defense all game on Temple's leading scorer. This kind of guard play could take Xavier places.

-Dante Jackson: After the Examiner ran a piece on his struggles yesterday and the Enquirer followed suit today, Dante stepped up banged a couple of huge threes for Xavier on his way to 8-4-2 on 3-3/2-2/0-0 shooting. You only had to look at his fist pump after the second three-ball to see what it meant to the senior guard.

Not so much:
-Team defense: No one Xavier player did that poorly today, but giving up 77 today was probably not what Coach Mack and the staff had in mind. Temple's abnormally hot shooting from behind the arc probably contributed to this, but the Muskie's D has been better.

Final thoughts:
-Great win for both conference positioning and the at-large resume. Xavier is now in the driver's seat of the A-10, with three of their next conference games being GW, @Charlotte, and St. Louis. Overall, the team played well and held off a game Temple squad down the stretch. Xavier could really take off from here.