It's rarely a good sign when your opponent celebrates after committing a 35 second violation, but that was the situation Xavier found themselves in Wednesday night. With 4:25 to play the Charlotte 49ers failed to get off a shot, and then applauded their own time wasting abilities as they jogged contentedly the other way. Lest you mistake this for some sort of 49er bashing, allow me to assure you it isn't, Xavier was just so hapless on offense that Charlotte knew they could win without scoring, or even making of an effort to. On the night, the Musketeers took 24 more shots than their hosts and only made three more. It was that kind of evening in Halton Arena.
Thanks to Fox Sports Ohio here in northeast Ohio electing to run the Cavaliers game instead of the college contest they had listed and scheduled (you can tell the difference because college players seem upset when they lose) anyone tuning in for the game in my neck of the woods arrived just in time to see Eric Stenger (4/1/0) get a dunk blocked. Still, the score read 22-19 and Xavier seemed likely to finish the half on pace to hit their magic number of 60 points. When Xavier manages those 60 points, they are 10-2. After last night, they are 1-5 when they don't. After hitting the 22 point mark, the Musketeers needed 25:06 to score their next 35.
That 25:06 was full of some of the ugliest basketball this side of the Wofford abomination everyone suffered through in December. Eric Stenger managed to get himself blocked twice more in the first half to help contribute to Xavier's team total of nine rejected shots. With that also came 17 turnover, 27 fouls, an appalling 25-68 from the floor, and yet another sub 50% night from the line. Despite all that, Xavier somehow only trailed a nearly equally hapless Charlotte by six as crunch time approached. Travis Taylor (18/11/1), saddled with foul trouble, carried the Musketeers after Semaj Christon (18/5/1) was, shockingly, dramatically slowed by cramps. With 5:24 to play a DeMario Mayfield jumper made the 49er lead 52-46.
With both teams vying for a top spot in the Atlantic 10, it was certain someone would step up and win the game. Instead, the next string of possessions went like this: 1. Denzel Ingram turnover. 2. Justin Martin miss, Isaiah Philmore miss (block), Dee Davis miss. 3. DeMario Mayfield miss, 35 second call. 4. Travis Taylor offensive foul. 5. Pierria Henry miss. 6. Dee Davis turnover. 7. DeMario Mayfield two missed free throws. 8. Brad Redford miss, Jeff Robinson rebound and turnover. 9. DeMario Mayfield three pointer. 55-46 Charlotte lead with 2:57 to play.
If you think that paragraph was dull to read, it was even worse to watch. Depressingly, it encapsulated the game. Charlotte scraped together the only big run (15-4) of the game to take an eight point lead with barely nine minutes to play. After that, the game turned into a slog as Xavier tried to get back into it and Alan Major's team tried to take the air out of the ball. By waiting until 12 second remained on the shot clock each possession, they managed to do just that.
Even worse than Charlotte's park the bus style of offense was Xavier's defense. An initial glance at the final score would lead you to believe the Musketeers defended reasonably well. They did not. Charlotte is a woeful outside shooting team that proved that again on Wednesday. Still, the Musketeers repeatedly gave up easy interior baskets by chasing the ball to the perimeter. Down low, Willie Clayton and Darion Grant put on a clinic in body positioning as time and time again they moved the listless Jeff Robinson (0/5/0) and Isaiah Philmore (2/4/0) out of the way to get superior post position. Charlotte's guards fed Clayton who converted easy looks to the tune of a 6-6 night from the floor.
Listless might actually be too kind on Philmore and Robinson, who verged on apathetic throughout the game. Robinson in particular was at his very worst in nearly every facet of the game. Unenthusiastic on the glass, Jeff also refused to try to get to the rim to finish and was clearly afraid of the menace that Charlotte's bigs were bringing to the game down low. While Robinson has a slight frame to blame for his unwillingness to mix it up, it's not immediately clear why Isaiah Philmore left Travis Taylor and a completely overmatched Erik Stenger to fend for themselves down low. The Towson transfer continues to disappoint with games in which he is content to go 0-4 from the floor and corral a lone defensive rebound.
As time wound down, Xavier surely rued their misses from the free throw line. Their 4-9 effort there kept the game from ever becoming only one possession. The Musketeers came as close as 61-57, but a comeback never felt likely. As the away team fouled out in ways both predictable (Travis Taylor) and sublime (Jeff Robinson) they could only count the chances they had left on the floor. The perfect conference season was never going to happen, but there are now many pieces that need put back in place for success to even feel likely.
-Can Redford stay hot? Redford's percentage actually went up, but that was only for a lack of chances. Brad attempted only two threes and made one of them. Charlotte chased him from end to end and was clearly determined not to let him impact the game. Red's 5/3/2 line speaks to their success in doing that.
-Can Xavier take care of the basketball? No. 17 turnovers and 23 missed shots add up to a lot of wasted possessions. Semaj Christon turned it over five times, Jeff Robinson and Travis Taylor three each, and a host of others contributed with one or two. It was truly a team effort in negligence.
-Who wins a free throw shooting competition? Is no one an acceptable answer? Neither team made half of their free throws. Darion Clark and Chris Braswell deserve mention for their impressive combined 5-14 mark, and the string of 0-1 on the Xavier side speaks to missed front ends of one and ones. It's here that I'll mention that the officiating for this game was just shambolic. Citing free throws and fouls called is a fools errand, but the crew that left Charlotte last not should be embarrassed by their inconsistency and horrific game management. The most glaring example came with five seconds left, when Justin Martin twice shot a free throw that was nullified by an official. Both times a ref bounced the ball to Martin, the universal signal that it is clear to shoot, and then reacted visibly when Martin shot. If the game hadn't been such a disaster it would have been laughable.
Next game: @ St. Joe's (10-7,1-3) at 6pm, Saturday.