Pivotal, must-win, crucial. There were a hundred different ways to describe this game coming in. In no uncertain terms though, Xavier had to have it. Xavier had to play like this game meant something, something had to click. Unfortunately, this team came out and played flat, again.
There is no way to encapsulate what happened tonight without casting aspersions on just about everyone. Mark Lyons, however, deserves the brunt of it. Lyons didn't start again tonight, his decision making and apparent lack of interest in things that aren't his scoring average finally hurting him, but he was one early. Lyons went 0-3, featuring a 25 footer from a standstill, a blocked shot, and a missed dunk. For good measure, Mark also turned it over twice.By the time most people had settled in for the end of their Saturday off, this game was over. A 7:08 scoreless stretch that coincided with a 16-0 Temple run was ended by a Justin Martin layup, but just as quickly answered by a Ramone Moore three that made it 24-7. Not content to just be pounded, Xavier went for pure humiliation. Another Ramone Moore three less than six minutes later made it 40-20, Temple. Moore finished with 30/1/2 on 9-16 from the floor.
It wasn't just the deficit that looked bad though, it was the effort. Xavier simply did not show up ready to play today. With the A10 and any chance for an at large bid hanging in the balance, the Musketeers showed no drive, no life, no heart. It wasn't just Lyons playing poorly though, no one could get anything going. Tu Holloway was clearly desperate for the win, but it took him 14 minutes to make a field goal, Kenny Frease was a non factor, attempting post up moves 17 feet from the basket and not scoring (8:57 to play) until it was done and dusted, and Andre Walker simply never had a chance in a game played just out of his reach.
By the time the half ended at 47-27, Xavier was in full on shell shock. A Temple barrage from deep (7-10) had forced the Musketeers out of the zone, but Juan Fernandez was simply abusing anyone on him in a man to man situation. That brings out the major issue of the game, Xavier, and Coach Mack, seemed completely unprepared to go along with their apathy. With Wells available, Mack instead ran Redford, Holloway, Lyons (until he added foul trouble to his list of issues) and Dee Davis at the ancient Fernandez before finally adjusting.
Xavier started the second half determined to run and push the tempo. A quick four point burst seemed to indicate that maybe Coach Mack still had the ear of some of his team. Temple, hardly troubled, responded by running the lead to a staggering 23 with 18 minutes to play. Xavier fought back from there, but the damage had been done. Only volume shooting from the guards and another strong effort from Dez Wells allowed the lead to dip under 10 very late in the game, but the outcome was never in doubt. Xavier, once the King of the A10, is dead.
-Does Xavier have a consistent effort in them? Well, yes. Xavier was awful all game today. Offensively, things got better in the second half, but the defense never really got better. Yes, the Musketeers didn't allow another 47 in the second half, but Temple consistently dominated the glass (18 offensive rebounds) and managed to slow the game when they felt the need to do so. ESPN flashed Xavier's defensive numbers all night long, but the team that was best in the A10 in defense is gone.
-How "back" is Michael Eric? Really back. A career high in rebounds (16), 11 points and countless shots changed went a long way toward showing how a real big plays. His counterpart, Kenny Frease, could have been mosre useful had he simply job shadowed Eric.
-Can Brad Redford defend any of Temple's guards? No, but God bless him, he really tried. Genetics beyond Redford's control limited him today. That and coaching.
Due to the nature of tonight's loss, I have canceled Things I Like.
Things I didn't like:
- The coaching: Once again, Xavier came out flat and unprepared on the road against a tough opponent. Coach Mack made no adjustments to the defense until the 24-7 mark. The zone that he switched to at that point was simply idiotic, and Temple made Xavier pay. Good coaches get their teams ready for big games. Coach Mack has done that twice this year (UC and Memphis) and both times he lost the plot late. At some point, a trend becomes the reality. Right now, this team is gutless and weak, and their coach can't shake them out of it.
- The effort: Wasn't there. Tu Holloway with 23/3/2 fought his heart out. His effort stood out amongst a team that simply rolled over. Travis Taylor rebounded hard, and Brad Redford always plays hard, but other than that, it was grim. Dez Wells 11/3/0 came alive late as did Mark Lyons 15/6/4 on 4-15 from the floor, but neither impacted the game when it mattered. If Xavier is going to make a run an win the A10 tournament (and that's the only way they get in now), they need to actually play like they care.
- Kenny Frease: Mark Lyons was awful early, but at least he tried late. Kenny Frease was garbage all game long. He finished with 2/1/0 on 1-6 from the floor. Read that line again. In a game when Xavier needed a big presence inside to combat Eric (six offensive boards) and Rahlir Hollis-Thompson (six offensive boards) Kenny was worse than useless. Frease didn't even foul well, only getting one in 18 minutes. He was effort was deplorable, apathetic, lazy, and, ultimately, the undoing of the Musketeers.
This could go on forever tonight, but it has to end at some point. Xavier fans who, like me, grew up with gritty teams led by Gary Lumpkin, Lionel Chalmers, Kevin Frey, Drew Lavender, and a host of other never say die gamers, have a hard time watching a team simply quit. But, don't deceive yourself, this team, except Tu, did not compete tonight. That's a problem that lays a blanket of blame on players and coaches a like. Without heart, they might as well just end the season now.