What do you call a team that beats Butler but loses to Pacific? What do you call a team that beats Purdue but loses to Wofford? What do you call a player that goes 0-10 from the line? What do you call a player who fouls 92 feet from the basket with six seconds left in a tie game? What do you call a team that goes 8-16 from the line to follow a 3-14 performance? What on earth is happening at Xavier?
Only a couple of those questions even mattered when Xavier went into the half with a 34-22 lead over a Wofford Terriers team that lived up to their billing as undisciplined and inclined to heave. The Musketeers didn't exactly dominate the half, but they did enough to show significant improvement from Wednesday's disaster at the US Bank. By protecting the ball (four turnovers) and converting at the line (5-6) Xavier turned their size advantage into a significant edge in the paint. Travis Taylor, especially, worked over the small Terriers front line to the tune of 15/6/0 and a block.
It wasn't just Taylor though, the team as a whole shot 58% from the floor, held a 15-9 edge on the glass, and turned seven Wofford turnovers into 13 points. Landen Amos and Brad Redford saw significant court time in an attempt to keep Dee Davis and Semaj Christon from relapsing into the cramping issues they suffered against UC. In all, it was about as an encouraging a half as anyone had a right to expect from the team that got run off the floor by the Bearcats.
The UC Bearcats are undefeated, 11th in the nation, big, fast, strong, and very good. The Wofford Terriers came into the game 5-6, 132nd in the KenPom, somehow lost to Ball State, and play some of the worst interior defense in the nation. What those teams have in common is that they, apparently, terrify the Xavier Musketeers. The Terriers opened the second half of today's game with a 16-6 run. Xavier, seemingly unwilling to read any sort of advance report, failed to keep feeding the ball inside and also kept ducking under screens on the perimeter. After a barrage of three straight threes, the game that should should have long since been killed off was tied at 40 with 13 minutes to play.
Travis Taylor singlehandedly dominated the Wofford front line in the first half. In the second, his teammates forgot about him. Taylor's first touch came at the 16:07 mark, and that wasn't given to him anywhere near where he could do some damage. Taylor did score to take Xavier to 40 and got another touch shortly after that. This, mind you, came six minutes into the second half of a game in which Taylor had 15 points with only one missed field goal by halftime. Taylor got another shot at 6:17, one more at 5:26, and a final attempt with 1:59 to play. After carrying Xavier out of the offensive malaise of UC and scoring 15 in a single half, Travis Taylor was rewarded with only five more shots on the day.
It's not as if Wofford made a great adjustment to take Taylor away, either. The Terriers showed a double team when the Xavier big man caught the ball, but not on every re-entry pass to the post. For some reason, the Musketeers simply quit feeding their hot hand. That, in turn, led to one of the most criminally wasted chances to win a game in the history of the program. After riding their three point shooting back into the game, Wofford went cold. From the game tying bucket at 12:59 the Terriers managed to make two field goals in the next nine minutes. In that same stretch the scored only six points. Somehow, they emerged from that funk trailing the hapless home team by only one.
From there it seemed as if the writing was on the wall. A Wofford three pointer put them up 49-47. Semaj Christon missed two free throws and another Terriers bucket made it a four point lead with 1:42 to play. More Christon misses from the line (he finished the day 0-5 and is zero for his last ten) and the lead hovered at 53-49 with 20 seconds to go. Then, when all seemed extremely lost, Brad Redford buried a three that barely touched his hand. Heavy contact went disregarded and Wofford made two more free throws that should have iced the game. Redford, undeterred, banged in another three that tied it at 55 with eight seconds to play.
As Xavier began to retreat down the court to play defense, two players remained behind. One was Semaj Christon, whose free throw woes put Xavier in this pitiable situation, but whose defense had been admirable all day. Christon was clearly in place to prevent Wofford an easy transition into offense. Also still in the backcourt was Jeff Robinson. Robinson started the year strong, perhaps benefiting from the removal of two perfectionists playing guard. Jeff scored in double figures in four of the first six games before fading back to his usual level. Significantly, the air of apathy and inability to think clearly that have defined Robinson as a Xavier player were again becoming evident.
They have perhaps never been more evident than with eight seconds to play today though, when Robinson made one of the stupidest basketball plays and Xavier fan has ever had the great displeasure of seeing. After Redford tied the score with another nothing but the bottom three pointer, Jeff Robinson fouled on the inbounds play. God and Jeff alone know what, or if, he was thinking, but it cost Xavier the game. Lee Skinner missed his second attempt but an out of control Semaj Christon was called for a charge (incorrectly, though Christon at the line is hardly cause for celebration) as he tried to win the game for Xavier.
So what do you call a team or a player that does those things? Inconsistent? Young? Poorly coached? Today, for Xavier, it was all of those. Christon flickered but never took the game over, Dee Davis looked like he didn't know how to initiate an offense properly, and Coach Mack never adjusted to the fact that Wofford doubled down on Taylor, nor did he instruct his guards to keep feeding the post. What do you call that team or player? I don't know, I just know that come the weekend of March, it won't matter anymore.
-Will Semaj take care of himself? Well, I guess so. Christon only played 34 minutes today, and Mack was clearly trying to protect him early in the game. Physically, yes, he was ready to go. Mentally the strain of trying to carry the load seemed to show as Semaj got frustrated repeatedly in the second half. Despite getting angry, he never took the game over and killed it off. His 0-5 from the line shows that his physical prep may be ok, but his mental game is not.
- Is Dee okay? Physically? Yes. As the point guard of this team? Probably not. Davis managed 5/2/2 and was somehow less assertive today than he was when playing on one leg against UC. He just vanished from this game as it went on, and seemed increasingly ok with that.
-Is Xavier ready to bounce back? No. This team folded at the very first sight of anything faintly resembling adversity. Call it coaching, call it preparation, call it whatever you like, but the Musketeers completely and utterly collapsed tonight against a team that went seven minutes in the second half without a field goal. Wofford somehow stayed in this game by scoring six points in nine minutes. So no, Xavier wasn't ready to bounce back. This was a first rate demonstration of gutlessness.
Next game: @ Tennessee, Dec 29th, 6pm.