There are a dozen different narratives that could come out of this game. Where do the Musketeers stand now? Is this the most underachieving team in college basketball? Was that the win Memphis needed to get in? Can Xavier still make the NCAAs? What did Mark Lyons do? What matters the most though, is figuring out what happened in six minutes that both encapsulated, and all but ended, Xavier's season.
With 6:16 to play, Xavier led 62-51, Dez Wells had just finished a three point play, and the Musketeers looked every bit the team that started 8-0. Tu Holloway wasn't shooting well, but he had seven assists with only one turnover, Kenny Frease was dominating inside, getting free looks and converting enough of them to keep Memphis off balance and out of position, Andre Walker was once again all over the place, and a surprise zone was contributing to a brilliant defensive performance. Yes, with six minutes and 16 seconds to play, Xavier was back. Or at least it seemed that way.From that high water mark at 6:16, things simply collapsed. Each possession was vital, and most of them were costly. In case you have already forgotten, here's the six minutes that felt like a dagger, coffin nails, the tightening of the noose, or whichever death analogy you prefer.
5:59- It started when Wesley Witherspoon buried a three pointer that heralded the beginning of his game closing tear. Witherspoon averages six points per game on pedestrian shooting numbers, but the senior rose to the occasion yesterday. 62-54
5:33- After two Memphis fouls, Tu Holloway committed his only turnover of the game. Will Barton scooped up the ball and fed Joe Jackson, already racing the other way.
5:30- Andre Walker chased the play down and gave away a foul. The effort was good, but Jackson converted both. Following the recent trend, the Tigers went 24-28 from the line against the Musketeers. In a game decided by four, that number of free throws is vital. 62-56
4:54- After being victimized by a tremendous amount of Oscar worth flopping, Xavier finally got the benefit of a call when Antonio Barton was adjudged to have blocked a driving Andre Walker. Walker converted one of two from the line to slow the Tiger momentum a bit. 63-56
4:31- As throats tightened throughout Xavier Nation, Wesley Witherspoon slashed past Kenny Frease and picked up another and one. Kenny wasn't hurt by the whistle and it was his presence down low that anchored the defense. Late in the game though, Memphis figured out the zone. A made free throw and it was 63-59.
4:16- Starting a trend, Tu Holloway missed a jumper after working very little time off the clock. Worse still, it was an ill-advised pull up jumper, a look that can be gotten at any time, during any game.
3:06- Xavier held well for a possession, but then couldn't get a look on the other end. Dez Wells missed a jumpshot on a costly wasted possession. Both Mark Lyons and Tu Holloway dribbled the ball to death and failed to look inside at all. Frease, still wanting to be involved, drifted outside and set series of pointless screens. 63-59
2:46- Antonio Barton scored as Tarik Black set one of the most egregious moving screens in the history of basketball. With Barton driving down the right channel, Black simply ran into Kenny and pushed him out of defensive position. Protesting from Kenny went unheeded and Barton ghosted in for a layup line finish. 63-61
2:12- As senior guard Wesley Witherspoon rose to the occasion for Memphis, Tu Holloway killed Xavier. Again unwilling to give the ball up or initiate anything resembling an offense, the Musketeer guard missed another mid range jumper. Despite needing buckets, Xavier failed to get a very effective Kenny Frease the ball in the post after the 10:01 mark. As the guards dribbled the game away, Frease couldn't make an impact. On this play, Holloway raced back and was called for a foul despite swerving to give Joe Jackson a layup. Two more free throws. 63-63
1:56- Dez Wells turned the ball over. Blame can be spread everywhere, but not much should land on the superb freshman. Wells went for 19/5/4, shot 8-10 from the floor, and went 3-3 from the line.
1:27- Antonio Barton scored again to give Memphis their first lead since 30-28. Xavier was officially in serious trouble. 63-65
1:13- Tu Holloway finally got to the rim, but this time he missed. He may have been fouled on the play, but the Xavier guard simply didn't have it down the stretch. In and of itself, that isn't so bad. The fact that Holloway continued to stagnate the offense and take shots with other options on the floor is what caused the loss.
0:32- After a Jackson miss and a Wells rebound, Mark Lyons ended his night with a turnover and a foul as Wesley Witherspoon simply took the ball. Lyons had 11 in the first half but only a single three pointer in the second. Lyons finished with 14/2/2 but only played 27 minutes. Witherspoon split the free throws 66-63
0:23- Tu Holloway bounced off a Kenny Frease screen and rolled down the right side of the lane. Joe Jackson, relegated to the bench this year for Memphis, chased Tu down and rose perfectly to block his shot. With 23 seconds to play, Holloway needed to get to the rim or attempt a three. He did neither. Antonio Bryant free throws four seconds later iced the game.
And that was that. A 21-5 run for Memphis closed the game and erased an 11 point lead. With that collapse, Xavier is now in a very bad position for an at large bid. The A10 tournament will be crucial to the Musketeers chances to even making the NCAA tournament in March.
Will the real Mark Lyons please stand (back) up? Lyons was 4-9 from the floor but took bad, early shots again. He wasn't bad, Tu Holloway filled that role, but he slowed the offense and to often seemed to look for only his own shot.
Who does Xavier throw at Will Barton? Will Barton got 13/5/1 on 5-13 from the floor. He was effectively neutralized by the 3-2 zone Xavier employed and had no role in the comeback at the end.
Can Xavier beat a team with big guards? No. Lyons and Holloway were a combined 7-21 and didn't get to the rim effectively at all. Joel mentioned that bigger teams push the slighter XU guards outside off screens, and Memphis did just that. Rather than employ Kenny Frease, the guards held the ball and eventually dribbled away a huge win.
Things I liked:
Kenny Frease- The big man from Massillon went for 10/10/1 and stifled Memphis defensively. He also worked into space well and and knocked down open jumpers. He did miss some stickbacks, but Xavier should have pounded the ball to him late.
Brad Redford- While not being forced to match up in a man to man, Redford can play meaningful minutes. He managed 18 yesterday, never got absolutely torched on defense and went 2-3 from deep. He cannot reasonably be expected to do more.
Things I didn't like:
Lyons/Holloway- Apparently frustrated that they weren't scoring, the New York guards abandoned the team and attempted to carry X down the stretch. From the 6:16 mark on, Lyons or Holloway ended eight of Xavier's eleven possessions. Kenny Frease ended none. That was the difference in the game.
Coaching- Despite the guards clearly trying to take over a game that didn't need taken over, Coach Mack made no adjustments. Xavier didn't get the ball to Frease off any of the four timeouts that they got to work with, nor did the offense seem to change. With the game slipping away, Mack chose to let his misfiring duo try to win it. It has worked in the past, it didn't yesterday.
Next Game: URI, Wednesday @7 at the Cintas.