Last night, Xavier got a win in a game that it could not afford to lose. Much like being challenged to a game of one on one by the smallest girl on the playground, there was little to gain from this matchup. A win for Xavier was expected, a loss would have been devastating. Ultimately, the final score papered over what was a relatively ugly game.
Xavier didn't even manage to score until over three minutes of game time had expired. Brad Redford, again starting for Mark Lyons, buried a deep three pointer to give X a 3-2 lead early on. Redford, hustling on defense and creating space on offense, went 2-5 for the game and consistently gave the Rams a matchup issue. Redford accounted for 16 minutes on the game, but it was his start that was again a surprise.
That's not to say Mark Lyons wasn't a factor, for the first time in three games, he was. With the Musketeers trailing 8-7 early, Lyons scored a free throw, assisted a Tu Holloway basket, and then sank a three pointer. Absent from the run was the usual swagger or chest thumping the King of Upstate usually brings. Lyons finished with 10/2/5 on 3-9 from the floor. It wasn't just Mark lacking fire early though, it was the entire team.
By the time Brad Redford travelled to end the half, Xavier had turned the ball over 10 times and only scored 27 points. Steve Pappas, announcing the game, said Xavier "just don't feel they are here." Not since Darnell Williams dropped with injury in 1998 have the Musketeers looked so much like they were simply going through the motions. Tu Holloway turned the ball over six times in the first half on his own. While a primary ballhandler will turn the ball over from time to time, six in a half is inexcusable.
However, Xavier held a ten point lead at the half. Rhode Island spent the first half demonstrating how a team can win only five games at this in the season. Three separate four minute scoring droughts condemned the Rams to only 17 points in the first 20 minutes. The Rams shot 22% from the floor and went 1-11 from behind the arc, turned the ball over seven times, and managed only four points in the paint. It was honestly one of the worst halves of basketball I've ever seen.
Despite that anemic performance from their opponents, Xavier didn't open much of a lead. Part of that was their own less than stellar shooting (38%) but most of it came from the fact that the Musketeers turned the ball over 11 times. It was, to say the least, disheartening. Faced with yet another chance to at least temporarily right the ship, Xavier instead staggered through an almost apathetic 20 minutes of basketball.
In the second half, Tu Holloway seemed determined to atone for his sins. Holloway managed 12/5/4 in the last 20 minutes alone as the game went from a dull and plodding demonstration of ineptitude to an almost breakneck pace. The score in the second half, Xavier 57-49 URI, was higher than final score of one other game on the college slate and within ten points of several others. Xavier shot a jaw-dropping 68% from the floor and managed those 57 despite making only one three pointer. For their part, Rhody shot 47% and went 5-11 from deep. Billy Baron scored 17 himself.
Despite Rhode Island's offensive outburst, the game was over with 7:45 to play, when Brad Redford's second three point of the night gave XU a 63-38 lead. The Musketeers didn't value the ball all that well in the second half either, with seven turnovers, but he did manage to allow only four points off those turnovers.Tu Holloway was the last starter out at the 3:33 mark. Tu had recovered from his first half case of inexplicable turnover syndrome to post a line of 20/10/6 and not turn the ball over at all in the second period.
-Who is going to make good decisions? Well, no one, really. 18 turnovers only leaves you in games against teams as pitiful as Rhode Island. Andre Walker was the only Musketeer who played more than 20 minutes and didn't give the ball away at least once. Tu showed signs of a post-Memphis malaise all first half.
-Has Xavier turned over a new leaf on defense? Until this game was over at the 7:45 mark, Xavier was suffocating on defense, allowing only 38 points in 32 minutes. That kind of defensive effort has to make Coach Mack happy. Of course, the Musketeers allowed 28 points in the next minutes. Even Paul Westphal's Loyola Marymount teams thought that was a bit much.
-Can Xavier put Dez Wells into positions to perform in the half court? Despite the final score, this wasn't really a sprinters game. Wells played well within himself and got 8/3/1, with two blocks, on 3-8 from the floor. It had to frustrate the young man that he couldn't get out and go, but it didn't frustrate him into stupid decisions. Now, to get him to make a dunk.
Things I liked:
- Brad Redford starting: Redford isn't a 30 minute guy, and he isn't a double figure scorer, but he brings hustle and effort on both ends of the floor. Oddly, bringing in a three point specialist is clearly a move designed to get the ball into the low post. Kenny Frease responded with 8/8/2 in 24 minutes.
- Tu's second half: Still no fire, but the effectiveness was at least back. Tu has to be excellent for this team to win, that's all there is to it. This was supposedly a deep team loaded with weapons, but it isn't. Instead, the Hempstead, NY native is again carrying the burden.
Things I didn't like:
- Mark Lyons refusing to learn: Lyons scored 10 points but only went 3-9 from the floor and continued to stagnate the offense and take bad shots. I have no idea why he is doing this, but his new role off the bench clearly isn't getting through to him.
- Jeff Robinson: He's back! Robinson has disappeared as quickly as he burst onto the scene. Last night he managed 2/3/0 in 11 minutes. Justin Martin and his 0/0/1 in 12 minutes could just have easily filled this space. Thankfully, Travis Taylor played as complete a game as he had in quite some time, chipping in 12/3/2 on 4-6 from the floor and 4-5 from the line.
Next game: @ Temple at 9:00pm Saturday. Winner takes the A10 lead.