All week we've been discussing the explosive start to the season by sophomore James Farr. Farr had been averaging eight points and six rebounds coming into this game, this after a season in which he racked up a grand total of 42 minutes played. While Farr's numbers were amazing, it was hard to believe that he'd be able to continue to keep rebounding at the top five in the nation rate that he'd established for himself. Tonight, though Farr took another step forward to becoming an integral part of what just may be a very good team.
Before any more discussion of Farr comes a look at a first half that Xavier drowsed its way through. Apparently unimpressed by the scare that ACU put into Maryland, the Musketeers spent the first 20 minutes allowing the Wildcats to have clear sight from deep. While that may not hurt you against most teams, Abilene lives and dies by their ability to hoist from deep. As Xavier defenders didn't close out, the Wildcats went 5-11 from deep and wrestled themselves back to 39-31 from what had been an early 12 point deficit.
Part of the reason the game wasn't dead and buried at the half was because Xavier shoots as well from 15 and completely unguarded as the Wildcats did from all manner of distance in open play. A 5-11 mark from the line in the first half was just the latest in a growing curriculum vitae of free throw ineptitude. Shooting like that is going to cost this team a game when the competition is more challenging than a team from the Southland Conference. Frankly, that sort of shooting should be embarrassing for the Xavier players, but apparently the shame is not so great that they care to learn from it.
In the second half the Musketeers just ground ACU into submission with a comprehensive display of a superior team finding its legs. It's ridiculous to expect college kids to take every single game seriously, especially when they know their quality will see them through. What can, and should, be expected is that the team do what it needs to do to win a game. In the second half, Xavier got to work and did just that. A 15-5 run, followed shortly by a 10-0 run ended the game as a contest with 8:41 to go.
While Farr (14/8/0) once again attacked the glass with abandon, Myles Davis (15/3/0) was the one who cued the killing off of the Wildcats, going 3-3 from deep during the decisive period. As things ran away from the overmatched Abilene squad, Matt Stainbrook (9/10/5, four steals, four blocks) threw up a lob for his frontcourt mate Jalen Reynolds (11/7/0). That bigs were lobbing one another spoke to the ease with which Xavier put this game away once they were fully engaged.
It's difficult to write a compelling recap of a game that never really was. That doesn't mean there weren't some things to take from this one, though:
1. Lesser teams can't handle Xavier's bigs: Xavier used to be all backcourt, running, and really hoping Kenny Frease stayed down where he belonged. That's no longer the case as Stainbrook, Farr, Reynolds, and Isaiah Philmore (7/6/0) just crushed a smaller team down low. It may have only been Abilene Christian, but this was the performance of a frontcourt that wasn't to be denied. A 45-21 advantage on the boards and 16 offensive rebounds speak to that.
2. This team is shockingly deep: Nine different players played 15 or more minutes, and that was without rotation stalwart Erik Stenger, who was down with an illness. All nine of those players scored, eight had a rebound, and five chipped in an assist. Semaj Christon (17/3/6) took 15 shots but the Musketeers ran up 93 without another player taking more than eight.
3. Free throws as a very real problem: 21-36 on the day, and now 59% on the season, this team is genuinely bad from the line. Semaj Christon went 3-5, but the starting frontcourt was 5-15. That's bad, it's inexcusable, and it absolutely will keep this team from winning anything significant unless it is fixed.
- Who can go? Still not a full squad. Sickness happens, so Stenger missing time shouldn't lead to a longer concern. Philmore, Justin Martin, and Dee Davis all played and showed no signs of lingering injury beyond Philmore's ungainly wrist brace.
-Can James Farr keep it rolling? Yes. Still no assists for the red-hot forward, but he attacked the glass like a maniac (six offensive rebounds) and went 5-5 from the floor and 4-4 from the line. Surely there's no way he can keep going like this, right? James Farr is just unstoppable right now, and he's getting better with each game. 20 minutes in this one, and only a single foul.
-How was your weekend? Abilene is out of the way, and now the real season begins. Xavier has played four cupcakes and Tennessee so far. 5-0 was the predicted record right now, and it's good to see the team there, but now comes the time to start establishing NCAA tournament bona fides.
Tweet of the Game:
@BannersParkway His second response to Bob Wenzel before going to the locker room was kinda terse. Was a dumb question, to be fair.— Mike Lindeman (@AnotherMikeL) November 26, 2013
Mike L's second sentence succinctly sums up nearly every halftime interview in history.
Thanks, as always, to the Xavier SI department for that.
Next game: Thanksgiving at 7pm vs. Iowa