With 1:29 to play in the first half, it finally happened. While Dez Wells celebrated his latest high-flying alley oop finish, Mark Lyons walked back toward half court. With the student section rampaging in the seats, season ticket holders on their feet, and the team leading 38-16, Lyons snapped his arms into an X and began nodding vociferously. The swag was back.
Xavier desperately needed to annihilate someone, and soon. The Fordham game was just a taste of winning, but being the #8 team in the nation requires far more than sneaking past the Rams, even a resurgent Rams team. Someone had to take the pent up frustration of a team that has the talent required to play with anyone in the nation. a message game had to be coming soon. Unfortunately for Duquesne, it arrived last night.
Xavier jumped on Duquesne almost from the tip. Mark Lyons stole the ball from sophomore sensation TJ McConnell, and seconds later Kenny Frease had X on top. The lead built to 6-2, then 12-7, then on a 12-2 run, all the way to 24-9. Coach Mack was on his one good leg constantly, exhorting his team to keep the pressure on the Dukes. At 4:46 to play the Dukes cut the lead to 13. At that point, the Dez Wells show began.
Wells has been making spectacular plays for the Musketeers all year long, but his abilities had never been on display like they were last night. Wells was everywhere, his speed making him a threat to get to the rim nearly as much as his leaping ability. His finish off Tu's lob brought the crowd to life and seemed to signal the start of something. Brad Redford buried a three pointer on the next possession. When Jeff Robinson tipped home a missed Lyons layup a minute later, the lead was 34-14 with 2:46 to play.
As the half wound down, the ball was in the hands of the Musketeers maligned star, Tu Holloway. Holloway, a sensitive young man, had taken all the bad press and bad publicity to heart. His struggles after the fight mirrored the team's. But, as the half wound down, he had the ball. A double screen up top from Redford and Robinson signaled the start of a play known in college basketball circles as Houston. Tu had the option of passing, driving, or stepping back for three. Confident that his opponent wasn't, McConnell ducked the screen. when Tu buried the three, the air went out of the Duquesne. Tu smiled as he headed to the half, his team leading 44-16. It was an unreal half of basketball from a team many insisted was struggling.
The problem with big first half leads is that they lend themselves to second half complacency. Xavier had stifled the Dukes in the first half, holding a team that averaged 78 points a game coming in to only 16. For a brief bit, it looked like that might happen as XU and Duquesne traded buckets early in the second half. A 7-0 run midway through the second, however, pushed the lead to 58-30 and really started the party inside Cintas. Fans that were waiting for the folds that came against Hawaii and Fordham could breathe easy, the Musketeers had put the game on ice.
How does Xavier matchup? Finally, Xavier exploited the height advantage they almost always have. X scored 54 points in the paint and grabbed 15 offensive rebounds on their way way to a +12 rebound margin. Duquesne simply had no chance inside and, for once, the Musketeers recognized that.
How much does Xavier need Tu to score? Not a lot, evidently. Tu has said on many occasions that he prefers creating chances to taking them. Last night he scored 11 and directly aided in at least 22 more. That's immense production from not a great deal of shots.
Can Xavier defend the perimeter? Duquesne went 2-16 from deep and never took a shot without a hand in the area. Xavier's defensive intensity finally seemed to pick back up. It was a quite welcome sight, as it led to the easy baskets the salted the game away.
- A blowout lends itself to less recap, and more notes. So here goes.
- Brad Redford is still lacking confidence. Around the five minute mark in the second half, Lyons worked the lane and kicked to the wide open Michigan native. Instead of shooting, Redford passed. At the next dead ball Lyons made his thoughts on that course of action abundantly clear. Redford's teammates still trust him, but he is still a bit gun shy.
- Tu Holloway wasn't terribly efficient shooting, but he was in ball distribution. 11 assists and only one turnover is a masterclass in taking care of the ball.
- Xavier may not need either guard to score in abundance to win. Lyons had his worst game of the year and only scored two to go with Holloway's 11. Wells (16), Frease (11), and Jeff Robinson (12) all scored in double figures to share the load.
- Don't ask about Jeff Robinson, I just don't know.
- Justin Martin was as aggressive as he has been all year in his 16 minutes of playing time. 3-6 from the floor and a 7/3/0 line are nice numbers from a freshman.
- Dez Wells is a freak. 16/9/0 came from playing with all the energy in the world. Wells could not be stopped offensively. It was his intelligent movement off the ball that kept getting him into the places where his acrobatic ability could be used.
Next Game: St. Bonaventure Jan 14 @12 at the Cintas
- Griffin McKenzie has no place on this team. The crowd loves the hometown boy, but when you are on full scholarship and get three minutes in a 28 point game, the writing is on the wall.