I'm guessing this is what you all were expecting. The #13 team in the nation had a middle of the pack MAC team at home tonight. For any other program, that sounds like a sure thing. To a Xavier fan, it sounds like the lead up to the annual nail-biter with Miami (Oh). When we last saw XU they were dominating a game against an IPFW team that gave it a valiant effort. Miami was coming off an overtime win against what should be a mediocre Dayton team. The stage was set, of course, for yet another overachieving performance from the Redhawks.
The story of the game could almost be told in the first five points that were scored. Dez Wells grabbed a rebound and got out in transition to put Xavier up two (very) early. Bill Edwards responded by draining a three on the other end. If you were thinking "No way Bill Edwards keeps that up" well, I wouldn't have blamed you.
Unfortunately, Bill Edwards did keep that up. Edwards, who connected on 28.9% of his attempts from behind the arc in the last year he played, went on to 4-6 from deep tonight. The game whipsawed back and forth in the early going. Dez Wells and Mark Lyons were bringing plenty of energy to the table, but the rest of the Musketeers were struggling to get on track. Julian Mavunga pushed the Miami lead to 20-17 with 9:39 to play when he stepped back and scored from long range. Mark Lyons quickly answered to make it 20-19 just in time for the free throw line to rear its ugly head.
Any discussion of this game will center on Xavier struggling from the line, and rightly so. The next two minutes after Lyons layup were dominated by Kenny Frease and Travis Taylor down low. Thanks to the beginning of an appalling night at the line though, Xavier only managed to tie the game at 20. Shortly after that, Edwards and Mavunga both again connected from deep. When Edwards hit two more threes to send X into the locker room down 34-32, it was starting to look like one of those nights.
And, maybe, last year it would have been. Tu Holloway was scoreless in the first half on his way to finishing 3-12 from the floor. In 2010-11 that spelled disaster, especially in Charlotte. Facing his first off night of the season though, Tu refused to force the action. Settling into a complimentary role for the evening, he grabbed a key steal near the start of the second half that he turned into a trip to the line, Xavier's next possession he had a shot blocked, calmly gathered and found Travis Taylor cutting to the hoop. The crowd sensed a run as the XU lead inched out to 41-36. The next trip down, of course, Miami buried a three.
Miami actually went on an 8-0 from that point to take a 44-41 lead. Dee Davis answered with a three of his own off of a pretty feed from Big Kenny and X was back even. From there, it was a bunch more poorly played basketball. You think of a six point basketball game as a dramatic one. It wasn't. Xavier edged out to a 48-44 lead off another bucket and assist from Tu, but they never found a second gear to bury Miami. The Redhawks managed to hang within three or four but never really looked like making a run of their own to claim the game. This looked very much like February basketball as the two teams just hammered away at each other. When the final horn blew both teams looked more than happy to just fight another day.
How versatile is Andre Walker on defense? Well, tonight was the night to answer that. Originally assigned to Mavunga, Walker was shifted to the inexplicably effective Bill Edwards for the second half. It can't be coincidence that Edwards cooled off as the game went while Mavunga seemed to warm to it. Give Walker a good deal of credit for doing whatever was needed defensively.
Who is going to step up in the paint? Travis Taylor. Taylor had a 9/6/0 line (with two steals) that didn't being to show how much he impacted the game. For the first time, he looked comfortable and aggressive in Xavier white. Big Kenny had 13/7/1 to go with four blocks and will still be derided for it. People who don't see the big man from Perry Twp as a contributor are missing the plot.
Can X defend a shooter? Joel identified Brian Sullivan as a potential threat from deep. The Xavier guards did a nice job in limiting his clean touches and forcing him to put the ball on the floor. His 1-3 was the good news. The bad news is that the rest of the Redhawks went 8-16 from deep. Allowing teams to shoot 50% from behind the arc is not a good habit to get into.
- Xavier has to convert from the line. 12-21 is atrocious, Kenny Frease' 1-5 is even worse than that. Good teams finish chances and convert the easy points. Xavier finishes as well as anyone, but that will end if teams realize that sending people to the line is a 50/50. The free throw shooting thus far is a very ominous sign.
- Jeff Robinson missed another chance for himself today. Sent in to spell Walker and maybe start a reputation as a defensive stopper, he instead got beaten baseline, turned the ball over, and didn't attempt a shot in four minutes. Unless something changes, Robinson is going to be the answer to "who is that guy sitting by the walk-ons?" before the season is over.
- Andre Walker's 2/4/0 line wasn't anything special, but don't let it fool you. Like Dante Jackson, Jamel McLean, and Stanley Burrell before him, Walker is clearly committed to the team. Three of those rebounds were offensive and the Vanderbilt transfer seemed to have a hand everywhere on the court. We said before the year that someone had to be a glue guy. So far, Andre Walker has relished that role.
- 18/4/1 for Mark Lyons. His maturation has been astonishing to watch.
Next game: Georgia comes to town on Black Friday. Get your shopping and nap in early and catch the tip at 8pm.