In a game in which you could get called for a foul based primarily on your facial expression, it was all about the big men for Xavier tonight. Senior Isaiah Philmore - who are not exactly a fan favorite thanks to his slow start to the season - was an absolute heathen tonight. Despite his generally ground-bound style of play, he went for 17/12/0 with 0 turnovers on 4-8/0-1/9-12 shooting, and four of his boards were of the offensive variety. That number from the line is hard to ignore, but it was just a ferocious effort by Philmore, who worked himself into a rhythm on garbage buckets and was going one-on-one to score over Alabama's bigs down the stretch.
If you subjected yourself to the announcing crew calling the game on ESPN3, you may have heard them touting the fact that Xavier held Alabama without a field goal from 9:48 to the 15 second mark in the second half. This was instructive for a couple of reasons. First of all, Xavier's defense did force the Tide into shooting 0-6 from the floor and 0-3 from deep and committing four turnovers in that span; Xavier's defensive effort should not be discounted. The other thing to note is that Alabama went 13-17 from the line during that span. Not only does that number keep this showing from being a true zipping up, but it shows just how tightly the game was officiated for the last 15 minutes or so. The refs called it more or less straight up to begin with, but things got very ticky-tack on through the last third of the game.
The other half of Xavier's two-headed big man monster was also in fine form tonight. Matt Stainbrook went for 17/6/3 with 0 turnovers on 7-14/0-0/3-4 shooting. After a stuttering start, he got up through the gears as Xavier charged back into the game and looked borderline unstoppable on the post at times in the second half. While Philmore is something like a bull in the middle, Stainbrook looks almost unperturbed as he moves toward the rim. All three of his assists found cutting guards as he calmly surveyed the floor even while working himself into a position to score if need be. Just a borderline clinic in post play from him tonight, especially considering foul trouble limited him to 19 minutes of play.
Semaj Christon had trouble against one of the top defenses in the nation, but he still showed why Xavier fans think so highly of him. One two possession sequence said it all. With Xavier still down three with 5:13 left, Nick Jacobs got the ball on the right block for 'Bama. Jacobs had been turning to his left hand to score all night, but this time when he did so Semaj raced in from the wing to swat his shot away. Xavier ended up getting a Stainbrook layup and free throw to tie the game. The next time down for the Tide, Jacobs took the ball on the left block and again turned to his left hand. This time Semaj had read it all the way and raced from the other corner to steal the ball as Jacobs turned. Dee Davis scored and converted an FT on the other end to give Xavier a lead they never lost. Semaj had 9 points on 4-11/0-1/1-3 shooting, but he stuff the stat sheet with 4 boards, 5 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks.
Bad JMart was back. The less said about that the better.
Dee Davis was a sublte catalyst for Xavier tonight, going for 12/1/2 on 4-8/1-3/3-3 with just 1 turnover. More importantly, he was tasked with tailing Alabama's leading scorer Trevor Releford all night and managed to keep him from taking over the game. While Releford got his average, Davis only was whistled for one foul, keeping a 94% free-throw shooter away from the line in a game that featured 49 fouls called and 58 FT attempted. Sometimes it's the little things, and in a game that came down to Dee at the stripe to salt it away with less than a second left, not giving Releford 8 or 10 trips to the stripe tonight was a huge difference.
The final piece of the puzzle was Xavier's three-point shooters. After going 1-8 from beyond the arc in the first half, the Muskies shot 4-7 from deep in the second and had a couple more rattle out. Of particular interest were James Farr's threes, which came within a minute of each other and cut the game from 59-52 to 59-58 just as it looked like Alabama was weathering the storm. The second came on the right wing in transition, as Farr motioned for the ball from Christon and then rose and buried it over a Tide defender who was sharing Farr's personal space. It was a big-time play for the young man, and seeing the confidence he displayed in taking that shot on during a game in which he had been relatively silent was awesome.
Odds and ends:
-Jalen Reynolds had 5 boards, including 4 on the offensive end, but managed to pick up 3 fouls in 9 minutes of playing time. He also had a colossal stickback dunk.
-Brandon Randolph played 11 minutes and didn't score, but he had an assist, a steal, and no turnovers. When Alabama went to a full-court press, it looked like they would have needed more than five guys to get the ball off of Randolph.
-Xavier only had 6 turnovers, and 3 of them were from Justin Martin in 15 minutes of play.
-What a turnaround from Xavier's early-season free throw woes tonight was, as X shot 22-28 from the stripe and 7-8 when Alabama was fouling at the end.
-Since Xavier won, I can be gracious in congratulating Shannon Hale, a freshman forward for Alabama who scored 14 tonight after coming into the game with 24 points all season.
-Xavier's 51 points in the second half were the most Alabama has given up in a half all year.
I know the tweet of the game is Brad's domain, but my dad was on the road to visit his ailing mother (everything's fine) today, so in lieu of his take, here's Matt Stainbrook being awesome:
@mstainbrook40 Don't be afraid to mix in a right hand every now and then, just for kicks.— Banners on the Park (@BannersParkway) December 22, 2013
Stainbrook genuinely looks like he loves basketball when he's out there playing, and his willingness to take a little ribbing on Twitter is endearing, to say the least. How can you not love having him in the program? That's about it from me. Brad's narrative recap and the Sunday Conversation are still forthcoming, and Xavier will be back in action one week from today against Wake Forest. Stay safe and have a Merry Christmas.