Last year Xavier and IPFW played a hard fought and, frankly, ugly game that stretched into an overtime period. Xavier was in the midst of an 8-5 and the Mastadons battled them hard for every point. This year, Mark Lyons and Tu Holloway made sure it was a very different story.
Tu Holloway missed the opening game of the year while serving a suspension for liking basketball too much. That brief hiatus gave Lyons, whom Hollway refers to as the second best player in the A10, a chance to take the reins and run the team. After pouring in 22 against Morgan State, Lyons made it clear tonight that he isn't entirely ready to simply play Robin to Holloway's Batman all year.
For all the deserved press that Lyons and Holloway will get following this game, it was Dezmine Wells who made sure things got headed in the right direction early. 14 minutes into the game the freshman already had 12 points and four rebounds and was contributing to the general clampdown on Frank Gaines. Wells carrying the team early left plenty of time for Holloway to warm back to his role of facilitating the offense.
And what a different offense it is for Tu to facilitate this year. Rather than frequently having to go in to "closer mode" and spend the majority of a shot clock manuvering for a clean look, Holloway now has a plethora of options open to him. Seven Musketeers other than Holloway (24 points) scored tonight, and Mark Lyons (21) and Dez Wells (16) joined the point guard in double figures. Holloway took only 10 shots from the floor and added six assists and five rebounds in a brutally efficient performance. The entire team ran relatively smoothly, managing 19 assists on 32 made field goals. While the 16 turnovers will also stand out, they were mostly the fault of overconfident play once the lead was built.
That brings us back to Mark Lyons. In the first half he was the Cheeks of old, forcing tempo, taking and missing poor shots, and not making the easy ones either. At halftime though, something changed. Lyons attacked the Mastadons with a fury in the second half, going 7-7 from the floor and killing off any hope of a quick comeback with a steal, an assist and two points in the first 1:38 of the second period. With 16 minutes remaining in the half Lyons had already scored seven points and helped push the Xavier lead to a game high 23.
The rest of the game was a study in working out the kinks in a good team. Coach Mack rotated nearly every warm body through nearly every position in an effort to get a better read on all his players. Justin Martin responded with an 8/3/2 line in 11 minutes and Andre Walker also responded well with 4/3/1 and two blocks in 18 minutes. Jeff Robinson only managed 2/3/0 in 15 more frustrating minutes and Brad Redford was 0-3 in his time on the floor.
How well does Tu re-integrate? Very well, apparently. Holloway played himself into the game like the leader he is. He didn't shoot until after four minutes had elapsed and everyone else had gotten quality touches. I was a bit concerned that Tu would try to validate the All-American status in the first two minutes. He didn't, but he did validate at the end of 40.
Who starts at the three/four? Dez Wells and Travis Taylor got the call tonight. After his performances in the first two games, it's hard to see Wells relinquishing the three any time soon. The four is a bit less settled. Taylor makes sense against a bigger team due to his height and athleticism, but he needs to be effective (0-4 tonight) from the line to be a weapon. Jeff Robinson keeps working his way toward transferring, which leaves Andre Walker plenty of time. Walker/Taylor make an impressive combo down there for now.
Can Dez Wells be an elite defender? It was a team effort that harried Frank Gaines into 5-22 from the floor tonight, but Wells looked good in his time there. That said, tougher matchups await the young man in non-conference play.
- Jeff Robinson and Griffin McKenzie need to come up with ways to impact the game or they are going to get to spend a good deal of time watching. McKenzie promises at least some shooting prowess if given time, but he must be a presence underneath to unseat Taylor or Walker. I honestly have no idea what to expect from Robinson. He could score 20 or 0 in the next game, regardless of opponent.
- Justin Martin seemed far more comfortable tonight. That's good for XU, terrifying for teams that have to figure out how to cover a team that could run five scorers onto the court at one time.
- Kenny Frease was himself again. He tends to not bring his A game when it isn't needed and tonight was no exception. The big man muddled through the game but still managed to block six shots. Don't worry about him, he'll be there when he's needed.
Next game: Friday, vs. Miami (Oh) @7pm