What happened: VCU 75 - Xavier 71
That one really hurt. Xavier came out well, turning the ball over a bit but making VCU pay for extending the defense by moving the ball in the half court and scoring early in possessions when the Rams failed to get back. The Musketeers' defense held VCU to 10-33/2-17/4-7 shooting in the first half. If they don't score, they can't set the press, and the Rams were being forced into long shots and missing them in the first half. After X scored the first four points of the second half, it all fell to pieces. VCU shot 17-32/6-11/9-11 in the second. Making baskets allowed them to get into their press, which allowed them to turn Xavier over in the back court. This led to easier shots for the Rams, which allowed them to get back into their press. This cycle spun in on itself, and Xavier fell apart.
Darwin Davis, Jr. - otherwise known as Dee Davis - was in the middle of one of his best games of the season when he went down with what looks to be a concussion early in the second half. His line of 15/4/3 with 2 steals and 5 TO came on 4-7/1-3/2-2 shooting in only 20 minutes of playing time. VCU was forcing him to turn the ball over, but Xavier was handling the pressure much better with him on the court. Once he left the game, Semaj Christon was Xavier's only primary ballhandler left in the game. VCU outscored Xavier by 9 in Davis' absence.
Brad Redford came ready to shoot today. He went 5-8 from deep for his 15 points. Remarkably, he did not put up any other stats beyond those 15 points and his 3 fouls. VCU's system kept them from keying on Redford the way other teams do, and he was able to get free time and time again on the break. He probably could have had even more than his eight shots from beyond the arc, but Xavier's ballhandlers were having trouble finding him over the swarming VCU defense.
Justin Martin came out of the gates like a ball of fire, scoring Xavier's first six points on a pair of and-ones. He - as he is wont to do - lapsed into a passive mode on offense for a stretch through the middle, though, and ended up with 11/8/3 and 4 turnovers on 4-7/1-3/2-2 shooting. That's really not a bad line, but Xavier needed him to remain in attack mode throughout the game and punish Virginia Commonwealth for doubling and trapping ballhandlers. When he didn't look like a threat, the Rams were able to swarm X's guards.
Isaiah Philmore was an effective force off the bench for Xavier today. He had more bulk than anyone on the floor; when Xavier was able to get the ball into the half court, he was tough inside. His 11/2/1 on 3-4/0-0/5-5 shooting came with 3 blocks and just 1 turnover. The problem for him, as with the rest of Xavier's post players, was getting a chance to show what he could do. VCU sped the game up and jumped all over every passing lane, and Xavier couldn't do quite enough to get the ball inside.
Speaking of which, Travis Taylor had 5/9/1 with 1 TO, 1 steal, and 2 blocks on 2-5/0-0/1-4 shooting. His post moves were effective in getting him looks at the rim, but it wasn't his day in terms of finishing. Jeff Robinson had 3/3/2 with a TO and a steal on 1-4/0-1/1-3 shooting and was painfully anonymous for stretches despite being the tallest guy on the floor by a long way. Xavier could have used Good JRob today, but he definitely didn't show up. One scoop shot early on and a poor showing on the boards was all Robinson could muster.
Semaj Christon was tasked with sharing the press-breaking duties with Dee Davis, and when Davis went down, an already overmatched Semaj was in way over his head. His final game line of 11/1/7 with a steal and a block was marred by 10 turnovers. Christon was jittery early but looked to have settled in a bit before Dee went down. Christon still has trouble switching from attack mode to passing mode when he's on the drive, and that came back to bite him on a handful of occasions when he beat the first line of VCU defenders and then got himself in trouble by not finding a teammate when he couldn't get all the way to the rim. It's tough to ask much more of a freshman than when Semaj tried to do today. This game was a learning experience for him but, like many such teachable moments, it came with a cost. He'll be better tomorrow and better still next year, but he wasn't quite good enough today.
Odds and ends:
-Troy Daniels had 14 of his 19 - including 4 of his 5 threes - in the second half.
-Xavier was 17-23 (73.9%) from the line. Taylor's 1-4 and Robinson's 1-3 really hurt the Musketeers.
-X had 17 assists on their 23 made buckets, which is a really good number. This team can score when it shares the ball; they could have scored more if they hadn't been sharing with VCU quite so much.
-This was the first time Xavier has been outrebounded this year in conference play.
-VCU had 23 points of off turnovers and 9 second-chance points; in other words, they did exactly what we anticipated they would do.
-Xavier had zero second-chance points.
-"Martin bringing it up against the press is not in our best interest, but he can score."
-"Martin 6, VCU 2."
-"Rob shooting a 3? Why?"
-"We need guards that can handle pressure."
-"We are moving the ball pretty well."
-"Red with the shooter's touch."
-"Dee looks so much better today."
-"Nice dish, Jeff Robinson?"
-"Now the same dish from Semaj to Davis? They look like they know what they are doing."
-"We need to come out strong in the second half. I'm going to go play PIG in the driveway with your little brothers."
-"JRob needed that dunk. 9-0 run looks familiar."
-"Timeout is the best call Mack has made so far this half."
-"We have had a second-half lead in 8 of our 10 losses."
-"What a block by TT."
-"You can't leave the Frankenmuth Flash open!"
-"The refs have to call the physical play. We can't keep up with the banging."
-"Shooting is stone cold. We are melting down."
-"Semaj is AWFUL. Give me Whelan."
-"Unreal. Have to find Red in transition."
-"Taylor at the line is not what we need."
-"This doesn't even look like the same team. A dizzy Dee is better than Semaj."
-"Pass the ball over the press and then get it to Red."
-"Taylor has to come to half court to get the ball, then we can pass."
-"We are in real trouble."
-"RED! Refuse to quit!"
-"This one is over. I hate to admit it, but losing Dee killed us." [Ed. note: why am I the only one in my family who loves Dee?]
-"This loss is the season killer. X is at home in March."
-"Painful. I can't even rail anymore."
Well, that's it from me. Xavier will contest the most meaningless game of the season against Memphis at Cintas Tuesday.