I don't even know anymore. Yesterday, Xavier traveled to Wake Forest to play a Demon Deacon team that hadn't beaten anyone worthwhile in a couple of years. The Musketeers were absolutely desperate for a win after dropping three straight, two of which they should have won with ease. To have anything resembling a hint of chance of making the NCAAs this year, Xavier needed a win very, very badly.
Instead, they lost again. The game started out well with Xavier ripping out to an 8-0 lead inside the first three minutes. Even better, Travis Taylor was scoring and had gotten the ball in his hands twice already. Three minutes later, the Musketeers trailed 11-10. Then, the issues came back. First it was an Isaiah Philmore turnover, then the offense took seven more minutes to match the output of the first two and half, then Jeff Robinson came in and missed a layup, committed a foul, and got lost on defense. It was a brief glimpse of an entire wrapped up in a neat seven minute bundle.
Still, there was a reason for hope. The coaching staff seemed to have finally figured out that Travis Taylor needed the ball. Taylor responded to being fed by destroying the Deacons to the tune of 16/7/0 on 9-10 from the floor in the first half. No matter who Wake shifted at him, Travis scored, and scored with ease. It was as good a half as any Xavier player has put up since Tu Holloway took over against Dayton last year. Taylor was just a man possessed in the first half and Xavier rode him, but a C.J. Harris jumper staked Wake to a 31-26 lead at the half.
It didn't take long in the second half for things to go sideways. Jeff Robinson scored to bring X within three after the break, but Wake Forest responded with an 11-3 run to pull to a 42-31 lead. Semaj Christon began to show some life (finally) and attacked the rim with a vengeance as the game started to slip away. Christon didn't finish that well, but he scored eight as Xavier slowly got back into the game, again riding a stifling defense that limited the damage while the Musketeers found their offensive legs. A Jeff Robinson jumper with seven minutes to play gave Xavier the lead back in a game in which they had no business trailing.
That field goal occurred at 6:58, Xavier's next bucket came on a Semaj Christon layup at 1:56. In that span of time, Wake pushed the lead back to ten to effectively end the contest. All the familiar problems once again popped up while Wake put the game away. Between 6:58 and 1:56 Xavier went 0-4 from the floor, 2-6 from the line, gave up six offensive rebounds, and turned the ball over three times. Xavier doesn't have an issue that didn't bite them in the five minutes it took them to blow yet another winnable game.
More troublingly, Xavier completely forgot about their dominant big man. After running the first half, Taylor got a grand total of five touches in the second. Not five shots, not five points, five touches. Those touches, it bears repeating, went like this: First touch: got doubled, turned the ball over on a pass. Second touch: kick out, ball rotation, Davis misses corner three. Third touch: waits for double team, dribbles out of it, powers through for ten-foot hook shot. Fourth touch: waits for double team, kicks out, Martin misses wing three. Fifth touch: turnover out of a scramble. Rather than trying to get the offense going by feeding their best player, Xavier became increasingly guard reliant. That backfired when Dee Davis and Semaj Christon both fouled out, Christon after two more charges on out of control runs to the bucket, and there was no one left to bring the ball up the floor. Once again, a much needed win went by the wayside.
How does Xavier manage the pace? Much as Joel predicted, Xavier had to try to slow the pace occasionally against Wake. Xavier had 69 possessions, which is a big tick up from their usual tempo. The lack of depth and the pace hurt late when the Musketeers couldn't grab possession ending rebounds and Semaj Christon was at his out of control worst.
How does Xavier score in the half court? Travis Taylor is the ideal answer to the question, and in the first half everyone saw why. In the second half he didn't get the ball enough to matter as Christon tried to take over and Coach Mack evidently went on siesta. Christon struggles to go left, can't always convert from the line, and is a poor jump shooter. All of that played right into Wake's hands as they fouled him on drives and sagged off him on the outside. A 3-11 night from the floor and Travis Taylor being nullified were the results.
Who guards CJ Harris? Harris finished with a brutally efficient 15/1/1 on 4-7/2-3/5-6 shooting. He never really dominated the game but presented enough trouble for Xavier's guards that he got his shot when he wanted it. Tellingly, Harris had the ball and converted at the end of both halves of play.
Note: Xavier stayed in the locker room for over two and a half hours after the loss. The conference schedule looms next, and Xavier has no reason for hope right now. I'm not certain what Coach Mack said in there, but hopefully it got through.
Next Game: vs Temple, Jan 10th, @7pm