Anyone who has ever run through the woods knows that those first few steps back on the tarmac can feel halting, awkward, and clumsy. Ultimately though, getting back to running on a firm, smooth surface can make all the difference in the world. (If you can't see the analogy I'm about to draw, reading comprehension may not be your thing). The Xavier Musketeers emerged from the woods yesterday. It wasn't always pretty, it wasn't always fun to watch, but, ultimately, it looked like things were moving back in the right direction.
The leadup to the game was marred by a bizarre ban of the student section for the wednesday tip at Duquesne.
While the ban was subsequently lifted, it cast a pall over an already strange season. Many of the players talked about getting the confidence back in their game and, maybe, actually looking like the same team that started the season 8-0. Mark Lyons, never one to shy away from much of anything, summed it up this way "I'm gonna be tough, I'm gonna talk, I'm gonna do what I gotta do. Because when I wasn't, we were losing." Xavier rolled into NYC looking to follow Lyons example to get back to winning ways.
It didn't take long for Lyons to show that he wasn't kidding when he spoke of regaining the swagger. During an early game spurt in which he scored 10 of Xavier's first 12, Lyons sported some three goggles, stared down the crowd, and talked to a vocal fan. The charge The King of Upstate put into his teammates was almost palpable. Coach Mack had shown some defiance during the week by insinuating the media was trying to take away his team's toughness. With Mack gutting out a torn patella tendon and Lyons back to his charismatically obnoxious best, the Musketeers finally started to snap out of a 27 day funk.
Never one to leave well enough alone, Lyons was again back in the thick of things with 10:28 to play in the first half. As the unusually named Lamount Samuell brought the ball down, Lyons helped himself and headed the other way. Samuell committed what should have been an intentional foul by grabbing Lyons by the jersey. Mark spun and confronted his opponent in a manner clearly intended to send a message. Lyons received a technical for his words during the alteraction, but received no remonstration from the bench. Actually, as he returned to the bench, Lyons was the recipient of high fives, hugs, and pats on the back to the point I was briefly concerned he had been ejected.
The Musketeers kept adding to the lead until the 3:42 mark, when a back screen from Kenny Frease freed Dez Wells to collect an alley oop from Lyons. Wells seemed to have his chest level with the rim, and he to came down showing a rare bit of emotion. Xavier took a 35-30 lead to halftime, but for once didn't leave to the sound of a funeral dirge.
A 21-10 run to open the second half seemed to put the Musketeers in position to complete a drastic swing in form by completely dominating an opponent. With 9:37 to go Kenny Frease knocked down two free throws and made the lead 56-40. Unfortunately, Fordham wasn't ready to go away just yet. Branden Fraser, who never met a shot he didn't like, buried a three and assisted another to cut the lead right back to ten. Two turnovers and two missed three pointers let the Rams creep back to 57-50 before Dez Wells knocked down a shot to again make the lead ten.
With a minute left the Rams had Rose Hill semi-rocking by pulling back to within five. Andre Walker, playing his best game as a Musketeer, found Kenny Frease for a dunk that quieted the crowd and pushed the lead back to three possessions. As Kenny gleefully airplaned his way back down the court, you could almost see the legs returning to a staggering Xavier team.
What did Travis Taylor and Justin Martin do? Taylor returned against Fordham to play a very effective 15 minutes, posting 6/5/0 on 2-4 from the floor. If Travis could make free throws, his line would have been a study in effciency. Alas, he cannot. Justin Martin managed only seven minutes and didn't do much with them. He seems tentative on the court and borderline lost on offense.
Can Big Kenny put together a whole game? The big man went for 9/8/1, managed five offensive rebounds, and sealed the win, but was still engimatically ineffective. Frease' ability to create space is completely squandered when he goes 2-8 from the floor. Encouragingly, Kenny converted 5-6 from the line.
How good is Xavier on the glass? Better, finally. Xavier won the battle on the boards by outrebounding Fordham 41-28. The Rams garnered eight offensive rebounds, but the Musketeers were clearly determined to get on the glass early and often. Walker (14), Wells (6), and Taylor (5) were all around the rim on every shot.
- Mark Lyons may be shaking things off, but Tu Holloway is not. The All-American had 0/1/5 on 0-3 from the floor and seemed very close to disinterested. Holloway's body language after the fight hasn't been good and his failed attempt to take over at LaSalle seemed to drain him even more.
- Brad Redford managed 18 minutes and scored eight points. His shot was sloppy at first, but tightened later in the game.
Next Game: Duquesne @7 on Wednesday, finally back at home.