Remember back in early December when Xavier's biggest issue was not being able to put away seemingly inferior competition? Morgan St, Miami (Oh), and Georgia all hung around far too long before finally being dispatched. That was long before the brawl, suspensions, and The Funk. Well, we're back there now. With the engines fully reengaged, the concern is once again letting overmatched opponents stick around in games. Hey, it could be a lot worse.
This game was barely 10 seconds old when Xavier sent a message of intent. Tu Holloway slashed to the hoop, drew the foul, and put Xavier up 3-0 early. Another Tu layup and a Mark Lyons three and Xavier was up 8-2 before the Bonnies even had a chance to settle in. Playing against a methodical team, the Musketeers seemed intent on pushing the pace and making St. Bonaventure catch up. At the first tv timeout, the score was already 15-8 and Bonaventure's bigs were struggling to impose themselves on the game.
It was clear that keeping the Bonnies bigs out of the game was the goal of the Xavier coaching staff. Andrew Nicholson didn't even get a shot until the 13:24 mark, and didn't make a field goal for another minute after that. With the Musketeers forcing the action, Bonaventure was forced to rely on their somewhat less than impressive three point shooting ability. While the game was still in doubt, the Bonnies knocked down two of the eleven threes they hoisted. A side in trap gave the Bonaventure post players looks out to the perimeter, but that option simply was not effective. Couple that with five turnovers from Andrew Nicholson and it was clear this was going to be a long afternoon for the Bonnies.
It could have been worse though. At 6:44 to play in the first half, Mark Lyons found a trailing Dez Wells with a brilliant between the legs, no look pass. Unfortunately, Wells blew the dunk. Even more unfortunately, that wasn't the only one he blew. Most unfortunate of all, two other Musketeers also missed easy dunks in the game. LaPhonso Ellis, commentating for ESPN, referred to the Musketeers as "0-4 from the rim, in." While one of Wells misses and Travis Taylor's miss were both contended, both Wells and an otherwise sensational Mark Lyons contrived to miss wide open runs to the rim.
The missed dunks were only one of the symptoms the Musketeers showed of knowing this game was well in hand. The score when Wells missed the first time was 20-13, but St. Bonaventure was clearly on their heels and didn't look like coming back. Sensing that, the Musketeers got very sloppy as the game wore on. A 14-2 run late in the first half essentially sealed the game at 34-19. Another 8-2 spurt early in the second made it 42-26 and prompted Xavier to fall back into some bad habits.
At first the turnovers didn't hamper the Musketeers, as their own defense, which held the Bonnies to 28% from the floor in the first half, remained stifling. Despite a couple missed three pointers and Andre Walker's only turnover, the lead actually grew to 57-35 with ten minutes and some change to play. From there, Xavier was outscored by nine and seemed content to turn the game into something of a skills competition, launching threes and running with aplomb.
Fortunately, this Xavier team is immensely talented. Led by Mark Lyons 4-7, the team went 8-16 from behind the arc, played a frenetic pace for most of the second half and still only turned the ball over 14 times, and managed assists on 20 of 27 made field goals. Even with Xavier allowing a 9-0 run during a 0-4 stretch from the floor, St. Bonaventure never came back to within single digits. With the lead at 68-54 with less than four minutes to play, Jeff Robinson (!) erased all doubt by scoring nine straight Xavier points. His two minute burst showed all of the potential that has teased Xavier fans for three years as he scored, albeit in a decided game, almost at will with an array of drives and jumpers. When Jeff Robinson pounds the final nail, you know it is over.
Who guards Nicholson? Kenny Frease looked adept enough early, but a turned ankle left him on the bench for most of the game. Nicholson was constantly doubled and never really allowed to settle into the game. As per the norm when Xavier absolutely has to have something done well, it fell to Andre Walker. Nicholson managed 20 on 6-12 from the floor, but wasn't a factor when the game was in doubt.
Can Xavier keep the Bonnies off the glass? Even without Big Kenny involved (he grabbed three boards in 13 minutes) Xavier won the rebounding game 29-27 and held the Bonnies to only five offensive rebounds. The glass was one place where the Musketeers could have been hurt last night, but they weren't.
Can Xavier keep Kenny Frease involved? We didn't see enough of the big guy to find out the answer to this one against St. Bonaventure.
- Tu Holloway is Xavier's most important player, but Mark Lyons is the the most talented. The King of Upstate went off for 21/2/5 with two steals on a very efficient 7-14/4-7/3-4 shooting day. Holloway (12/3/2) didn't fill the box score but initiated the offense and only committed one actual turnover. A real point guard finds a way to keep everyone involved, and Holloway is doing just that. Despite not looking to shoot much, he still scored 12.
- Brad Redford is finally rounding back into form. With Justin Martin anonymous again with a seven minute trillion, Redford is the remaining three point specialist. Brad was 2-3 from deep and converted four opportunities at the line to score 10 on the day.
- Brad Redford 41.6%, Mark Lyons 35.3%. Those are the career three point marks for Xavier's #2 guards, and they are a lot closer that I originally expected. Lyons is converting at a 40% mark this year, compared to Redford's 29%.
- Andre Walker played 32 minutes, turned the ball over once, and had an 8/7/6 line. He did that while defending either Nicholson or the explosive Demitrius Conger and chipping in a steal. Walker is easily the most consistent and probably the most underappreciated Musketeer in recent memory.
- I have no idea what goes on inside Jeff Robinson's head, but his 13 points came on a 6-7/0-0/1-1 line. He added two rebounds and played decent defense before fouling out. Joel said Robinson has turned the corner so many times it is possible to get dizzy watching him. That's true, but hopefully he figures it out for good this time.
- These were back to back vintage Xavier performances. Coach Mack took notice and called out some people in his postgame conference. Follow us on Twitter @BannersParkway to see exactly what he had to say. It seems the bunker mentality is setting in at Xavier.
- X is now 3-1 and tied for the conference lead after Dayton beat La Salle. If pollsters knew much of anything, the Musketeers would be back in the top 15. They don't though, so expect Xavier to get more motivation on the "no one respects us" level.
Next Game: St. Joe's at Cintas, Wednesday @7p