The problem with a 62 degree rain in northern Ohio the week before Christmas is that generally our lakes and ponds are already frozen and we usually have a solid six inches of snow on the ground. The problem with getting three inches of rain in one day is that causes everything else to melt. That, in turn, causes the kind of flooding that would make Noah feel comfortable. I'm sure by now you are wondering what this meteorlogical musing is doing on a Xavier basketball site, so I'll tell you.
I stepped out of my car into a driving rain with Xavier trailing by 12 in the second half. Dee Davis had just missed a layup to follow up his turnover on the last possession, and the dulcet tones of Joe Sunderman were informing me that Shannon Hale, all world performer, had just made his first free throw. Hearkening back to the USC game in the Bahamas, I figured that this one was over. A loss at Alabama, to one of the best defensive teams in the nation, was nothing to be ashamed of and 8-4 heading into the Big East wasn't too bad.
By the time I returned to my car, the game was indeed over, but not how I'd anticipated. As you're all aware by now, Xavier stormed back into the game, dropped a 51 point half on an Anthony Grant defense, and won the game. Shortly after I headed down to check the Tuscarawras River (it's still there), Xavier went on a 7-0 run to cut the lead to five. Myles Davis (10/1/0) made two free throws and buried a three, Justin Martin (4/2/0), who was completely ineffective again, made a layup and the deficit was suddenly very manageable.
Hearken back, if you will, to that last game in the Bahamas. Xavier also trailed it by 12 with 15 minutes to play. That USC team plays decent defense, but nothing like Alabama, but Xavier didn't rally until they were down 22. In our post-tournament breakdown we blamed both the coaching and scads of costly turnovers for the inability to close the lead until it simply didn't matter. When Alabama ran the lead back to ten, Xavier had the chance to roll back over and fold again. This time, they didn't.
An official tv timeout gave Coach Mack a chance to talk to the troops and they came back out ready to go again. Jalen Reynolds (2/5/0) took a break from fouling everyone in sight to slam in a tip dunk, Dee Davis (12/1/2) hit a three, and a Semaj Christon(9/4/5) layup and a Matt Stainbrook (17/6/3) pass to a slashing Davis made the lead three. A quick lull allowed the lead to run back out to seven, but the Musketeers didn't cave.
Against USC after Xavier fell way behind, they couldn't shoot their way back into the game until it was nigh on too late. (According to KenPom, Xavier never had more than a 3% chance to win, even during that rally). Against the Tide on Saturday, James Farr (6/2/0) stepped up and drilled back to back threes to trim the deficit to one with only six minutes to play. Until that point Farr had been invisible, but he didn't hesitate when he had a chance, and his threes swung momentum firmly over to the men in blue.
Against the Trojans, Xavier threw the game away by turning the ball over 19 times. Even in the midst of that spirited comeback, they simply couldn't keep the ball. Against Alabama, Xavier didn't turn the ball over in the last 12:30 of the game. Just as importantly, the Musketeers grabbed 17 offensive rebounds, scored 19 second chance points, and scored 38 points in the paint as the bigs simply dominated the game down the stretch. Carl Engstrom of the Crimson Tide came out like a ball of fire, and then fouled out with 7:08 to go having played only 16 minutes and totally unable to handle Stainbrook and Isaiah Philmore (17/12/0) down low.
Still, getting over the hump and actually tying the game is the point where many a good comeback falls short. Thanks to Matt Stainbrook though, this one didn't. The big man converted a Semaj Christon pass into three points thanks to a foul, and with five to play, Xavier had drawn level. A Christon steal and a Dee Davis three point play on the next possession gave the Musketeers they wouldn't relinquish. Down the stretch the Musketeers went 11-12 from the line (22-28 for the game), a marked improvement from the 11-20 they shot in losing to the Trojans.
This game ended with Xavier rolling
into toward the Big East (with one more stop against Wake first) at 9-3 and looking calm and composed again. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas the team twice went down big against BCS conference competition, but this time they came back. Between USC and Alabama, this team has grown immeasurably. A first Big East season is now just around the corner, and now there's reason for hope.
- Can Xavier score? Alabama plays great defense but, as was mentioned in yesterday's Conversation, they took a big hit from X. The Musketeers dropped 51 in the second half, and demolished the Tide in the paint. Alabama's only defensive Achilles heel is rebounding, and Xavier attacked the glass with abandon.
- Can anyone stop Myles Davis? Davis wasn't at his best Saturday, only going 2-7 from the floor. However, as Xavier stormed back into the game, Alabama had to check him consistently. That just opened more room down low for the bigs, who did their thing. As the game wound down, it was Myles who got fouled and drained two free throws with six seconds to play. It may not have been a virtuoso performance, but Myles greatly impacted the game.
- Can Xavier win on the road? With the home crown keening and the refs and a great Alabama defense bearing down, the Musketeers stayed composed, held the ball, and won the game. Ignore the Tide's record, they are a good team that will be playing their way into the NCAAs come March. This was a big road win.
Have a great Christmas everyone!