The Hawks of St. Joseph's have always been easy to despise. Phil Martelli has gone out of his way this year to make them even more so. With the Todd O'Brien debacle still grabbing headlines, the Hawks rolled into Cintas with their best season in years being swamped by their self-induced negative press. At 12-6 and 2-2 in the conference, St. Joe looked to be a bit of a test for the recently rejuvenated Musketeers. They weren't.
Early in the game it looked like Xavier might run away and hide. It was 15-8 at the first tv timeout and Xavier was 2-2 from deep and had rebounded and converted two of their three missed field goals. The Hawks had already turned the ball over twice and looked like they would have to rely on the three pointer for any offense at all. The lead stretched to 19-10 by the three minute mark with the Musketeers looking completely dominant.
Of course, that changed. Both teams cooled off and at the 7:40 mark Xavier led a 28-19 game that had lost a bit of the offensive intensity from the opening flurry. St. Joe capitalized on a suddenly lackadaisical Xavier defense with an 15-4 run to take a 33-32 lead. Xavier still seemed mostly intent on scoring and chucking ill-advised threes (they missed eight in the first half) and went to the half trailing 39-37. The defense that had disappeared in the second half of the Duquesne game was seemingly gone again as the Hawks scored 20 points in the last eight minutes of the half.
Anyone expecting to see the Musketeers clamp down after the half was initially disappointed. The Hawks came out of the gate with two easy baskets and Xavier was down 43-37 before everyone had a chance to finish nacho runs. St. Joe followed that up with five minutes of completely scoreless basketball. It looked as if the Musketeers flipped a switch in tearing off a 14-0 run to regain control of the game for good. Dez Wells scored six of the 14, and Tu Holloway assisted on four straight baskets.
More noticeable though, was the defense. After CJ Aiken's dunk gave the Hawks their six point lead, something changed. Xavier's guards were suddenly attacking every ballhandler, jumping passing lanes, and generally harassing the St. Joe's squad into turnovers and poor shots. At the other end, everyone chipped in as the 14-0 run became a 20-4 run that gave X a 57-47 lead with 8:16 to play. Andre Walker, Mark Lyons, Tu Holloway, Jeff Robinson and Dez Wells all scored as the upset bid threatened to become a rout. Lyons took Xavier to the timeout with a driving layup that he finished through contact. As the off guard flexed under the bucket, Phil Martelli looked increasingly worried.
Xavier came out of the timeout and quickly administered a game killing 11-2 run. With CJ Aiken on the bench with foul trouble, Halil Kanacevic, marvelous in the first half, was forced into the paint. Xavier reacted by employing top down traps, and Kanacevic responded with a game high seven turnovers. Coach Mack's strategy in not using the standard side trap paid off against a player not used to looking high opposite. Without an effective big, the Hawks looked lost offensively.
Bizarrely enough, that ended the scoring for Xavier. A suffocating defensive effort kept it from mattering, but Xavier finished the game by not scoring for over five minutes. That defense though, was more than enough. The Hawks are on very thin ice now, while the Musketeers continue to look dominant.
- Can Kenny go? Not only did Frease play, he played very well. In 28 minutes he contributed 13/7/2 and didn't seem slowed inside at all. Xavier did an admirable job on continuing to get Kenny the ball late in the game. That's an absolute must if the season is going to last late into March.
-Can Xavier score inside against the Hawks? St. Joseph's only blocked four shots all night and Xavier bigs scored 33 points. The 7% of field goals blocked came in at barely half of CJ Aiken's 13% from the year. Xavier may have suffered in rebounding by guarding against the block by dropping two defenders in transition, but this was definitely a win down low for X. Jeff Robinson continued his resurgence by adding 12 down low on 6-6 from the floor.
-Are Xavier's shooters ready to go? No. Xavier went 4-16 from deep, or this would have been a bloodbath. Again, Mark Lyons was the only reliable threat in going 3-5. The 1-11 the rest of the team posted featured a 0-3 from Redford and 0-2s from Dee Davis and the disappointing so far Justin Martin.
Things I liked:
1. Second half defense: The Hawks scored 16 points, shot 25%, and turned the ball over 11 times. Xavier absolutely clamped down.
2. Mark Lyons self-control: Plagued by foul issues in the first half, the temperamental guard played a perfectly clean second half. Given the defensive effort put in by the guards, that is pretty remarkable. Lyons 17/4/1 were needed in this game, fouls would have caused problems.
3. Kenny Frease: The oft-maligned big man played a solid game despite combating CJ Aiken and an injured heel. Best of all, Kenny was effective late in the game rather than just early. Frease scored five and grabbed three rebounds in the second period.
Things I didn't like:
1. First half defense: The Hawks scored 39, shot 47% from the floor, and scored 20 in the paint. Xavier must play two solid defensive halves to beat good teams. Only allowing 16 per half won't happen, but 39 is far too many.
2. Brad Redford: Redford played nine minutes and went 0-3 from the floor. His confidence is clearly lacking and, right now, he isn't bringing anything to the table.
3. Three point/free throw shooting: 25% from deep and 66% from the line are both horrid numbers. Xavier desperately needs another deep threat in case Lyons gets in foul trouble. Free throws are easy points that the Musketeers have been missing all year.
Next game: @UD at 1pm on Saturday.