What happened: Xavier 57 - Temple 52 (Highlights)
In big games, teams usually turn to their biggest players to do what it takes to win. Sometimes it's a freshman phenom swinging by on his way to his first righteous basketball pay check, other times it's a veteran trying wring every last drop out of his career before putting that business degree to good use. Still other times - and I can't emphasize enough how rare this is - it's a walk-on logging big-time minutes because one of your starting guards got crushed under a piles of guys bigger than he is. Landen Amos fell into that final category last night against Temple. His line of 0/4/0 with a block isn't overwhelming, but he hassled Khalif Wyatt from endline to endline, helping hold Temple's leading scorer to 5 points on 2-11/0-5/1-1 shooting. How good was Amos' performance last night? Well, when Brad tweeted "Huge respect to Landen Amos, who just devoured Khalif Wyatt tonight. Wyatt went 2-11 and was outmuscled all night long," Wyatt himself re-tweeted it for all 5,616 of his Twitter followers to see.
For a brief stretch, this game was starting to look like one we've all seen before. Ahead by five after a Brad Redford three, Xavier surrendered and 11-0 run that straddled the half and put Temple up 35-29. During that burst, Xavier went 0-2/0-1/0-0 with 2 turnovers on the offensive end and only got one stop on defense. With the game seemingly running away from his team, Coach Mack called a full timeout to rally the troops; he was awarded with a smothering defensive effort that held Temple to a single basket in the next 7:44 and facilitated the 19-2 run that ultimately tipped the game irrevocably in Xavier's favor.
Semaj Christon led Xavier in scoring again tonight, putting up a 7-15/0-1/2-2 shooting line on his way to 16/2/2 with 2 steals and only 1 turnover. In a game in which ball security was paramount and Dee Davis was only able to play 10 minutes due to injury, Christon's ability to keep the ball at the right end of the court was huge last night. Christon was 4-8 on jump shots; if he can continue to score from mid-range like that, he will get even more chances to employ the finishing ability he flashed last night when his man overplayed him on the wing and Semaj ripped past him for a monster dunk late in the first half.
Travis Taylor wasn't quite the player Xavier needs him to be last night, but he was a close enough simile thereof for the purposes of that game. His rebounding was particularly exemplary, and he put up a very respectable game line of 11/7/2 with 3 TO and a block. His shooting from the floor was somewhat underwhelming at 2-6, but his 7-11 from the line salvaged his day. More importantly for Xavier, he was nails when the Muskies needed him, going 5-6 from the stripe in the last three minutes of the game to keep Temple at arm's length.
With 1:42 left in the game, with Xavier clinging to a 54-50 lead, and with 25 seconds left on the shot clock, Jeff Robinson - 6'10" Jeff Robinson, arguably the closest thing Xavier has to a center - launched and predictably missed a very deep three for reasons apparent only to him and God. Other than that incredibly questionable decision, JRob was solid, and he ended with a line of 6/6/1 on 2-5/0-1/2-2 shooting. Justin Martin rounded out the starting front court's contributions with 10/4/0. There were some good signs from him on offense (3-6 from inside the arc) as well as some bad ones (1-5 from deep), but it was good to see him showing enough assertiveness to pull 11 times.
Ultimately, it was defense that won the day for Xavier. Holding any team to 52 on 63 possessions is an admirable feat; doing it against a team like Temple shows that defense is going to be the way forward for Xavier. One of the keys to the game in our preview here was to force the Owls into jump shots and see if they would shoot themselves out of the game. The Muskies did just that, and Temple obliged, shooting 9-37 (24.3%) on jumpers. That defensive effort - coupled with X only allowing Temple to come up with eight offensive boards on their 39 misses - was the difference between a huge win and another disheartening loss for Xavier.
Odds and ends: -Brad Redford had a very Redfordian line, going for 9/0/1 on 3-6/3-5/0-0 shooting in 22 minutes.
-Dee Davis once again exhibited the mental toughness that has endeared him to Xavier fans, returning to Cintas after having x-rays on his injured left wrist to finish out the game - including grabbing the final rebound - playing one-handed.
-Xavier's performance from the line today - 13-21 (61.9%) - was still not up to par, but the 13-17 the starters (excepting the 0-2 Davis shot while injured) put up is at least encouraging.
-Temple had assists on 14 of their 20 baskets; X assisted only 10 of their 20 makes.
-Isaiah Philmore played 17 minutes and ended up with only 2/2/0 on 1-2/0-0/0-2 shooting.
Dad's take: Dad, like most of the rest of us, was unable to watch the game because the A10 chose to let the season opener between their two top programs be broadcast on a network that the vast majority of Americans don't even know exists. Hard to understand why Temple is bolting for the dissolving Big East and the A10 still can't quite shake that "mid-major" label. Anyway, Dad attributed the win to Xavier's defensive effort and the three that Redford hit to give the team a five-point lead in the waning moments of the first half. Without that, he says, Temple's run would have buried our boys.
That's it from me. Check back this afternoon for Brad's narrative recap and again this evening for the preview of tomorrow's game against GW. Godspeed.