There's a reason that the cliche about looking past an opponent exists. Teams like IUPUI (or NJIT) show up on your schedule and the natural inclination is to toss a W over to the right and see who is next. For most of last night's game Xavier played like they had done exactly that. The bloodless offense of the previous seven games was gone, and the usual defensive prowess was still in effect. In a game in which they were favored to win by 25, Xavier somehow trailed 12 minutes in. While that would eventually be righted, this team has once again left its fans with questions about what exactly it is.
The first half was, frankly, a miasma of garbage. Against one of the worst rebounding teams in the nation, Xavier managed exactly zero in the way of a positive rebounding margin. The Musketeers also turned the ball over 12 times, one more than they had been averaging per game so far this season. The list goes on: a shooting line of .429/.250/.583, nine three attempts allowed, five shots for the bigs, who held a massive size and weight advantage inside, and a 27-23 lead over one of the, without exaggeration, worst teams in the nation. It has been a long time since a Musketeers team has come out and looked so listless against a team that is so bad.
Thankfully, there's a reason teams like this get looked past. It's because they aren't very good. With Coach Mack undoubtedly shaking off the new child exhaustion to tear into his team at the half, things changed in the second stanza. The Musketeers pulled away with a 13-2 run to finally seize complete control of the game. In that five minute span, Dee Davis (8/1/6) scored five, had two assists, and one of his four steals on the game. Dee's three was one of three the Musketeers hit in that run, with JP Macura (8/1/0) and the excellent Remy Abell (11/4/2) also adding one.
The game see sawed for a bit, but Xavier buried it for good with an 11-0 run not long after. After turning the ball over so prolifically in the first half, the home team only coughed it up four times in the second. Actually having a chance to get shots off seemed to work in favor of the offense, and the two early spurts showed that. Two Trevon Bluiett (12/5/1) driving scores and three Jalen Reynolds (3/5/0) free throws spurred the second run, and the game was essentially over as a contest.
It wasn't over as a chance for Xavier to finally get in some of the rotation work that they should have in the first half as well. The press with Jalen Reynolds as a monstrous presence at the point made an appearance and was vaguely reminiscent of the old X-Press with James Posey harassing the inbounder. James Farr (6/5/0) played 12 second half minutes and served, along with Remy Abell, as the crux around which the constant substitutions happened. Edmond Sumner (0/1/3) played six minutes in the second half, Larry Austin Jr. (2/1/0) played five and scored his only bucket and, probably more importantly for the team down the stretch, Matt Stainbrook (6/4/1), Trevon Bluiett, and Dee Davis only combined for 25.
Still, the 66-43 margin is probably not what Xavier's coaching staff was looking for before this game. The Musketeers came out flat, played poorly early, and only buried a vastly inferior opponent in the second half. There will be no recovering from a start like that in Big East play, not even against DePaul. This was a win, but it was a win with a warning.
- Can Xavier defend the arc? The Jaguars went 1-14 from deep and only took five threes in the second half. Ignore the percentage, that's down to ineptitude, the fact that only 14 threes went up, even in a game that became a rout, is very encouraging. Xavier had surrendered 20+ three point attempts in four straight games prior to last night, to see that number come down is encouraging.
- Will anyone play 30 minutes? No. Remy Abell topped the team with 27 minutes. Even though the game didn't go exactly to script, Xavier kept valuable miles in the tanks of the main players in the rotation. Post game analysts on FS1 suggested that the substitution pattern of the second half was down to Coach Mack not being able to set a rotation, ignore that. The wear kept off the legs last night was a good thing.
- What of James Farr? In a game that seemed tailor made for Xavier's bigs to just dominate the diminutive Jaguars, the 6-10 trio of Farr, Reynolds, and Stainbrook only managed 10 shots. Still, James made his three count by making all of them as well as chipping in five rebounds. It wasn't a return to the offensive explosions of last year, but it was a step in the right direction.
Tweet of the Game:
@BannersParkway SOOOOOOOO SLOPPY— Tim Twomey (@Tim2me) December 10, 2014
Don't miss our look at how far a team can go just by relying on an excellent offense to overcome a terrible defense.