Recently, it has become en vogue to talk about the Xavier Musketeers as if they still have some chance at a coveted at-large bid into the NCAA tournament. Win this, win that, win four out of that killer last five, win a couple in the Atlantic 10 tournament, and suddenly, you're dancing. Today's pitiful display against a mediocre (at very best) Dayton team hopefully put paid to that notion. Xavier is not an NCAA at large team, and this game was a 40 minute display of why.
Xavier took their first and only lead when Travis Taylor (10/6/2) somehow flipped in the first basket of the game. From that point on, Travis was rewarded with three more shots, all of which he made. Dayton responded by scoring ten straight to take the game by the throat. Improbably, that was it. 3:15 into the game Xavier had already hit their high water mark. The Musketeers doomed themselves by doing the same things they have done all year. Rather than wait for the inevitable second half drought, they faltered offensively early and often yesterday. A roughly eight minute span with only three field goals left Xavier trailing by ten with eight minutes to play in the half. The Musketeers cut that to six before Dee Davis (8/0/1) fell down to send Kevin Dillard to the line with 11 seconds left. His two conversions gave Dayton an eight point cushion at the half and blunted any momentum that Xavier was contemplating building.
The above paragraph can't really encapsulate how bad the first half was, though. Xavier never got into any sort of offensive sync, got outworked literally everywhere, and got absolutely destroyed by guard penetration. In the first game at the Cintas Center, Xavier nearly lost because Dayton's guards got the paint far too often. Apparently assuming the Flyers would employ a different strategy this time, Xavier spent another 40 minutes allowing copious amounts of dribble penetration. When Kevin Dillard wasn't using that to get to the rim he was either getting fouled (7-7 from the line) or finding shooters for his four assists.
If you had covered the score bar and asked an objective observer just to guess after watching the first half, he likely would have had the Musketeers down by 20. Instead, two Semaj Christon (17/3/2) jumpers right after the intermission cut the lead to four and put Xavier right on the edge of getting back into a game in which they were being comprehensively outplayed. When Christon scored again four minutes later, it was still a four point game. It would be 11 minutes until the freshman guard made another field goal. In that span he went 0-5 from the floor, 2-4 from the line, and turned the ball over twice. While he did that Dee Davis also turned the ball over twice. The second half drought for the team this game was an 8:20 stretch in which they scored ten points. Compared to some droughts the Musketeers have had, that seems mild, but it was more than enough to cost them this game.
It cost them this game because they simply failed to defend at all. Dayton gashed the Musketeers supposedly staunch defense for 70 points on 23-46 from the floor. Inside the arc, the Flyers usual weakness, they were an impressive 20-36 as all manner of shooting space opened up. Dayton scored 28 points on either dunks or layups as Xavier was simply too slow and too uninterested to play anything resembling effective defense. The officiating certainly didn't help the Musketeers (or the Flyers, really) either, as Ed Hightower and his incompetent cohorts served to rob the game of any flow while simultaneously failing to give any indication as to what they would call a foul on any given trip. That guessing game turned defense into a sort of basketball roulette.
By the time the Musketeers finally re-engaged the offense, it was far too late. Dayton built the lead out to as high as 13 before coasting home. Xavier threatened briefly when an Erik Stenger dunk made it 42-39, but that dunk only served to somehow energize the 11-2 run that effectively ended the game. Even a mediocre 16-23 showing at the line wasn't enough to keep Xavier in the game. NCAA tournament at large? Not likely, not on the strength of games like this.
- Who wins on the glass? Well, no one really won on the glass. Various box scores tend to differ but all agree that this was mostly a draw. Dayton certainly won in the paint though, mostly because Semaj Christon was too busy playing hero ball to realize that Travis Taylor hadn't missed and that Isaiah Philmore (12/3/0) was too strong for any Dayton big.
- Will the threes drop? Disturbingly, Dayton didn't even need their biggest weapon to win this game. A 3-10 performance from deep perhaps doesn't speak to how important a couple of Derenbecker's shots were to maintaining momentum, but the Flyers were finding making layups so simple that they never really felt the need to move much farther away from the basket.
- Can Xavier get a big road win? Unequivocally, no. The Musketeers went into the Dayton Arena and laid down today. This was barely a game, let alone a contest featuring a team supposedly playing for a shot at the NCAA tournament. Xavier just flat got pounded for almost all of the 40 minute proceedings today. Now, a big road win will have to come at Butler in the last game of the regular season. Does that really seem possible?
Next game: @URI, Wednesday at 7.