Matt Stainbrook came to Xavier advertised as a center with great potential and great trouble in meeting it. Big games against Duke and lesser competition we're often overshadowed bye discipline or weight issues. For all the skill that Stainbrook obviously had, he had a hard time staying on the floor.
Last night, Stainbrook played 28 minutes and all of his copious talents were on display. 21 points, 10 rebounds, and two assists came even though four personal fouls still limited the big man's time to some extent. In a more tightly contested game that might have been an issue, but last night was not that game. Wake lead 24-22 with under 10 minutes to play in the first half. At that point Xavier was struggling to stop the Demon Deacons at all. From then until the end of the half, Xavier ripped off a 20-3 run that featured 3 straight steals on Wake possessions. That, coupled with sustained interior domination, gave Xavier a lead they would never relinquish.
Wake came into the game 14th in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage. Xavier gets on the defensive glass very well, but the Demon Deacon's elite rate was a cause for concern. One way the Musketeers could combat that was force the pace and, during the decisive period, that's exactly what they did. Xavier managed 12 fast break points on the game, not a shockingly high number on its own merits, but the lifting on the pace with 10 minutes to play in the first half made a mark.
Prior to that, things weren't exactly sedentary. The 22 points Xavier had scored in the first 9:14 were roughly equivalent to their offensive output in halves of several games, and the 24 Wake scored in the first ten minutes were more than any of Xavier's first four opponents managed in a first half. In short, the buckets were coming thick and fast. Things first swung Xavier's way when Semaj Christon (12/5/4) buried a three with 7:17 to go to give Xavier the lead.
Things then went into Zip Em Up and run mode. Xavier recorded steals on five straight possessions and tallied run out layups on three of them to push the lead to 32-24. The Deacons scored with 9:30 to play and didn't record another point until the 1:36 mark. In that time Xavier had five steals, four assists, 14 rebounds, and 16 points. It's hard to fathom a more dominant seven minute stretch than that. The Deacons, feared mostly for their ability to extend or end possessions with their prowess on the glass, ensnared only five of the 19 misses that occurred. Xavier simply overpowered them on the boards.
In that decisive first half Xavier outscored Wake 26-4 in the paint, 7-4 in second chance points, and 10-2 on the break. James Farr (13/7/0) came off the bench for 11 and sparked the offense early in the half, Dee Davis (7/2/7) dished out five of his seven assists, and Matt Stainbrook and Isaiah Philmore (4/9/0) were dominant in the paint. That outburst left the second half mostly a processional toward another Xavier win, the 100th of Coach Chris Mack's career and the 10th of the season.
It speaks well to the dedication of this team that the first part of the second half was spent extending the lead. While Wake managed to claw back to the halftime deficit by the end, the lead hit 22 with 12:21 left in the second half and was never really in doubt. When the lead did briefly dip down to 12 with 7:14 to go, Stainbrook went on a personal 7-2 run and, as easily as swatting away a fly, Xavier finished the Demon Deacons off. With Big East play approaching the team that left the Bahamas is nowhere to be seen. Rising in their place is a squad that has the pieces in place to make some noise. None of those pieces loom as large right now as the big man from Bay Village.
- Who will guard McKie? I'm actually not entirely certain who guarded McKie every minute (I listened to this game) because Byron and Joe didn't see fit to call his name very often. The skilled forward was shadowed by Justin Martin (5/8/1) a good deal of the time, and he helped harry McKie into a 2-6 night from the floor and an unimpressive 5/6/1 line.
- Who controls the pace? The game started going great guns (old person saying!) but, after Xavier buried it, it slowed considerably. Still, the 67 possessions that landed exactly at Xavier's season average don't really tell the story. Wake wanted to run, but in the decisive moments of the game they just couldn't keep up with Xavier's speed. Brandon Randolph (4/0/1) was unfazed the pace and he and Semaj combined to turn the ball over exactly zero times. That helps.
- Can Xavier win on the glass? Yes. Rebounding margin on a season tells you nothing about a team, but in a game it can tell you everything. Xavier won the battle on the glass definitively, 50-34, and totally dominated on the offensive glass, grabbing nearly half of their misses. Wake was simply outclassed.
Xavier opens Big East play tomorrow with a 10-0 record on their home continent. The job that Chris Mack has done rescuing this team from the cramp induced disaster over Thanksgiving in the Bahamas is getting no national play, but it should be. Even Andy Katz, who at least tries to pay attention, only mentioned that Xavier is playing good defense and has nice depth. The next time you're talking to a friend from either coast, mention to them that your team is in the top 50 in schedule strength, has 10 wins, and didn't disappear along with the turkey.
Great Xavier SI Dept graphics:
Tweet of the Game:
Copy and paste as necessary "@BannersParkway: Jalen Reynolds plays three minutes, gets two fouls, heads to the bench"— Scott Manze (@ScottManze) December 28, 2013
Scott improves upon our original idea.