What happened: Xavier 70 - St. John's 60
In a game where the opponent's shot-blocking prowess was getting a lot of ink the previews, it was Xavier's own Matt Stainbrook who staked a claim to the paint on both ends of the floor. The big man put up 9/10/1 on 4-8/0-0/1-2 shooting with 3 blocked shots. He was able to do enough on the post to force St. John's to move their defense to adjust for him, leaving a group used to not needing to help on the post trying to figure out how to close all the gaps. His FT miss left him just shy of the double-double, but he was once again a vital cog in a big win for Xavier.
In the preview, I said this wasn't going to be an Isaiah Philmore kind of game. I underestimated either his guile or his guts, because he was just as impressive statistically as Stainbrook, going for 11/9/2 on 3-6/0-0/5-6 shooting. Coach Mack has been more open to youth this year than in seasons before, but he clearly still trusts his veteran big men when the chips are down. Against a tough foe today, both Stainbrook and Philmore were nails in the paint.
After going down 9-0 and not scoring for the first eight minutes, Xavier managed to claw back to tie it a couple of times in the first half before going into the intermission down two. The Muskies needed to establish momentum out of the half, and Justin Martin (of all people) stepped up and provided it. After Semaj tied the game with a layup, JMart hit a three, tipped in a Semaj miss, had a steal and a layup, and - after taking a possession off to let Dee score - another driving layup. That nine-point burst came in 3:08 early in the second half and gave Xavier a lead they never relinquished. Martin finished the game with 15/6/0 with a steal and a block, writing chapter in the ever-growing book of evidence leading to the conclusion that we're never going to figure him out.
Of course, I can't write about Xavier and not mention Semaj. Christon was not scoring at a high level today, but his 10/5/8 line with 2 steals and 2 blocks and no turnovers shows just how much he brings to the table for the Musketeers. Coach Mack said "I played [Semaj] too many minutes, but when he's doing things he's doing at both ends, you feel very confident with him out there." It's hard to add too much to that. Eight assists, no turnovers, and an increasing defensive awareness... Christon is doing special things for Xavier right now.
Something to watch is that this was Xavier's second consecutive miserable game from beyond the arc. Xavier was 4-16 from deep, and that was bolstered by an unexpected 2-4 from JMart and an unfathomable 1-1 from Brandon Randolph. Maybe this is just a little shooting slump, which is something that happens from time to time for almost every team, but it is definitely worth keeping an eye on going forward. Xavier has had some big threes at times this year, and that's a nice weapon to have.
Speaking of Brandon Randolph, he came off the bench and provided a spark when Xavier was struggling to get up through the gears. He ended the game with a modest 7/2/1 on 3-3/1-1/0-0 shooting, but all 7 of those were in the first half when he appeared to be the only Musketeer in attack mode. It was his three that tied the game at 20, and the Muskies have him to thank in large part for making the gap at the half so surmountable. Coach Mack also trusted him late in the game to help break the press, which speaks volumes of a true freshman. This kid has big things in front of him.
Odds and ends:
-St. John's had an OReb% of 36% on the game, which is not reflective of a great rebounding effort for the Muskies on that end. On the other end, Xavier's OReb% of 39.3% was very good.
-Dee Davis had 9/1/4 with a block and 2 turnovers and needed 2-8/0-3/5-6 shooting to get there. Dee never really sparked to life today until it was time to ice it with FT.
-St. John's pressed late and it basically didn't help them at all. Dee, Semaj, and Randolph are a tough trio to fluster in the backcourt.
-Watch highlights with an eye for Jalen Reynolds's monster dunk from a Myles Davis assist. If it's not featured, call your senator.
-"Wow, 0 for 7."
-"Six minutes and no points."
-"Good things St. John's isn't any better."
-"Dee should assist and not shoot. We're trying too hard to run."
-"Martin looks especially lost against a zone."
-"Reynolds makes his cameo appearance and picks up a foul."
-"Davis jumps at a three-point shooter. Why, Dee, why?"
-"Well to be down 2 at the half after that kind of start isn't so bad. Need a good second half."
-"St. Johns takes a timeout 48 seconds into the second half."
-"Martin, unreal. Maybe it's the good Martin today."
-"Martin with a great follow."
-"Martin with a steal and a finish."
-"Martin again, like a hot knife through cold butter."
-"Sweet Music to Reynolds for a monster dunk!"
-"Ten minutes to go and now they start calling ticky-tack."
-"The officials kept trying to get St. John's back into the game."
Well, that's it from me. Brad is out hunting drunk drivers all night, but he'll post his recap when he gets a chance. In the meantime, enjoy your New Year, stay sober (or have a designated driver), and enjoy the view from the top of the Big East.