As I listened to Cleveland Browns fans describe their team during my commute to work this afternoon, I couldn't help but think that many of the same words could be used for the Xavier Musketeers last night. "Uncoordinated, disappointing, frustrating, no progress, undisciplined, a waste of time." With their season suddenly in the balance and a final chance to enter conference play on a high note, Xavier instead served up a veritable New Year's feast of ineptitude.
For the first few minutes of the game, it didn't seem like things were going to end on such a bitterly sour note. With 14 minutes to play in the first half, Mark Lyons buried what was his first, and only, three pointer of the game off of a nice pass from Tu Holloway. Xavier led 11-10, the Cintas was rocking, and the emotionally draining end of the night was not yet in sight.
At 8:21 to play in the first half, the story of game started to change. Xavier led by three when Sam Dower caught the ball low, twisted inside, and converted despite a Dee Davis foul. The and one tied the game. Less than three minutes later, the Musketeers were down seven following an 11-1 Bulldogs run. In that stretch, X went 0-4 from the floor, and 1-4 from the line. That abominable shooting would continue all game.
Joel mentioned in the preview that Xavier needed to clean up their game and also check Gonzaga on the perimeter. When Sam Dower buried the three that gave the Bulldogs a 33-30 lead that stretched to 35-31 at the half, it was again because of a missed assignment. More importantly, it was a missed assignment on the outside. A miss from one time sharpshooter Brad Redford at the other end only accentuated the differences in the teams. A guard who is supposedly Xavier's best shooter missed, while a 6'9" forward from Gonzaga was unerring.
After the half, Elias Harris began to assert himself. With Dez Wells too small and Andre Walker too slow, Harris scored seven in the second period and grabbed three offensive rebounds. It wasn't all Harris though, because Tu Holloway started to attack midway through the period, first pulling Xavier back from down seven with a bucket and an assist, then giving X a 41-40 lead with 14:08 to play. When Gonzaga scored, Tu answered quickly with a steal and a layup to knot the game at 44 with 13 to go.
That was, unfortunately, the last time Xavier would sniff the win. A Sam Dower three with 9:45 to go stretched the lead to seven at 54-47. Dower, who came in averaging eight points and four rebounds a game, dominated Xavier for 20/10/1 and a 2-3 mark from deep. Dower's dagger lent a noticeable air of worry to the
It wasn't over yet though, Travis Taylor found Dee Davis in the corner with three to play to cut the deficit to 63-59. The freshman had 3/2/0, but his two steals testified to his ability as an on ball defender. His 1-3 mark from the floor testified to his poor decision making, as both misses came off fast break pull up jumpers. All
This time though, it didn't happen. Kevin Pangos made his only three of the night to push the lead back out. Tu turned the ball over, missed a layup, and found a misfiring Mark Lyons to miss another three pointer. Stops went wasted as the clock ticked from 2:35 to :59 before the Browns managed another score to make it a 66-61 game. Another stop and a missed Holloway three pointer turned the game into a procession to the free throw line. The Bulldogs converted, and Xavier Nation suddenly looked very, very worried.
-Is Dezmine Wells ready to go? Wells had 8/3/0 and only turned the ball over once. He went 2-7 from the floor, but he wasn't bad. Dez integrated back into the team well, but his shooting just reflected the malaise that befell the whole team last night.
-Are the Zags beneficiaries of home cooking? Evidently not. The Zags went 12-17 from the line, handled the cintas crowd well, and dominated on the glass by a 41-27 margin. The Bulldogs looked for real, hard to say the same about the other team on the floor.
-Can Xavier establish a reliable interior game? Kenny Frease dominated Robert Sacre to the tune of 12/6/2 to Sacre's 5/7/0. Unfortunately, Travis Taylor and Andre Walker combined for eight rebounds and joined Frease in being dominated on the glass. Kenny was effective from the floor, but allowing 12 offensive rebounds doesn't win games. Ever.
Xavier was once 8-0 and #8 in the nation. That seems a long time ago now. When Kenny Frease said "We've got to figure out whatever it was we had before all this stuff went down," in the post game, he wasn't the only one thinking it. Something is missing from Xavier. Three point shooting (3-16, Brad Redford at 25% on the year), poor defense, and stagnating offense are the obvious symptoms, but the team that stormed Vanderbilt and Purdue has long since gone missing. Finding out why is the job of Chris Mack and his staff. We've long supported Coach Mack here, but this stretch has to end now, or he will come under very merited fire. An untalented team loses because the players aren't good enough. A talented team that looks lost on offense and apathetic in stretches on defense loses because the most isn't being gotten from the players. If Coach Mack doesn't sort that, and soon, this season will go from bad to far, far worse.