So how about Justin Martin? In the first half against Evansville, he missed not one, but two layups. While one was in traffic, the other was the kind of right handed effort that you start teaching little kids when they are capable of lifting the ball. It was a pregame warmup kind of layup that every single college player should convert every single time. Justin Martin (5/4/1) in all his Justin Martinness, missed it. Cut to 40 seconds remaining in the game though, and it was Martin who slashed wide open into space on the left block and converted a beautiful pass from Matt Stainbrook (10/15/3) into two points and Xavier's ultimately definitive lead. Why was that lead definitive? Because Martin blocked a DJ Balentine shot 20 seconds later.
While the enigma that is Justin Martin finished the game dramatically for the Musketeers, this was not the kind of game that should have needed any heroics. Evansville isn't a terrible team, but they certainly aren't the caliber of squad that should be troubling Big East schools not named DePaul. For the first ten minutes last night, the teams traded baskets as Xavier, and an unusually subdued crowd, seemed to just be easing into the game. Then, a 10-0 run by the Purple Aces pushed their lead out to nine with 6:40 to play in the half.
Xavier woke up to answer that run and sliced the lead back to five very quickly. Just as quickly, the offense went back into hibernation. A Semaj Christon (19/2/2) and an Isaiah Philmore (2/3/0) missed layup gave Evansville a chance that they didn't miss and suddenly Xavier was staring at a ten point deficit and very much in a game. The lead only shrank to 32-25 at the half and the Musketeers were, once again, struggling with a very much inferior opponent.
There was hope that Xavier would put things right to start the half when they scored the first three points, but at the 12 minute mark the Musketeers were in the process of surrendering an 8-2 run that left them down 13. You aren't reading that wrong, there's no need to go get confirmation, three days after struggling with Bowling Green, Xavier somehow found themselves trailing Evansville's orange clad Purple Aces by 13.
Thankfully, this was Evansville and not Louisville. Xavier answered with a 9-1 run keyed by a Myles Davis (9/1/1) three and Semaj's determined running at the rim. The more Semaj ran, the more the talent gap between the teams began to tell. With Evansville unable to keep up with Christon, they started to just foul him instead. A perfectly legitimate, and probably tactically intelligent, strategy against the sophomore on most nights, the fouling didn't work last night. Semaj finished another two for two at the line with 6:41 to go and Xavier had clawed back within a single point. Christon went 13-17 from the line on the night and is now shooting a steadily climbing 60% from the stripe.
The game wasn't over at that point though, and Xavier couldn't find the dagger anywhere. A Dee Davis (10/1/3) with 5:03 gave X a brief lead, but a DJ Balentine layup with 4:13 to play tied the game at 58. After that, the teams combined to play 3:10 of scoreless basketball, not so much a gunslinging showdown as a game of checkers contested between confused three year olds. When Egidijus Mockevicius fouled out by hacking Matt Stainbrook with 1:08 to play Xavier finally took a 60-58 lead. Evansville tied it right back up, but then the Musketeers turned the game over to Justin Martin.
- Who gets the minutes? Nine Musketeers played 14 or more minutes, with Jalen Reynolds (8/2/2) limiting himself to eight by assaulting anyone he could reach. Coach Mack is clearly enamored with his deeper bench and used it well to keep everyone fresh and uncramping. It was James Farr (4/5/0) and Brandon Randolph (2/1/2) who came up on the short end this time.
- Can Xavier stop a star? DJ Balentine came into the game averaging 24.9 points per contest and generally not ever missing shots. Xavier forced him into only 15 points on 6-16 from the floor that included a 2-7 from deep, where he is lethal. That defensive effort was keyed by Semaj Christon and, of course, Justin Martin. No matter who matched up on Balentine though, it was clear the plan was to contest every shot he took. Come Sean Kilpatrick on Saturday, that same strategy will probably be employed.
- Who steps up? It's getting harder and harder to look past Myles Davis as the third option on this team. He doesn't drive much more than he needs to keep his shot open, and his release isn't as fast as it could be, but the kid doesn't shy away from shots. Dee Davis also had a solid game last night, but it once again came against the dregs of the schedule. Someone has to be the flat track bully, and Dee seems to have taken to that role with relish.
Tweet of the game:
@BannersParkway I hope they at least say they were looking forward to Saturday. At least give me an excuse.— Adam Maloney (@maloneyam34) December 11, 2013
Cool Xavier infographic: