What happened: Xavier 71 - FGCU 57
This game really happened in three phases. For the first 5:37, neither team played very well. Xavier led 9-6 but was shooting 4-10/1-1/0-2 and had turned the ball over twice. Florida Gulf Coast had scored on their first two possessions and then shot 1-8 with two turnovers. Then Myles Davis baited Bernard Thompson into fouling him on a three. Myles's 2-3 from the line sparked a 25-14 Xavier run over the next 9:13 that put the Musketeers up 34-20.
With that kind of lead at home against a reeling opponent, you would hope to see Xavier bury the game. Instead, they finished the half with a stretch of 4-10/1-2/0-0 shooting punctuated by a turnover leading to an FGCU layup to end the half. Having led by 14 with 4:36 left in the half, Xavier went into the half up 14. They ended up winning by 14. It seems disingenuous to be uninspired by a 14-point win, but Xavier once again had their foot on the opponent's throat and then just stood there, waiting for the clock to run out.
Xavier's second-half offense was uninspiring, but a lot of that had to do with foul trouble inside. The defense was good - Xavier allowed only .84 points per possession on the game and below .90 in the second half. The Eagles had 5 second-half threes though, and a couple of other good looks at the basket from deep. Though they never cut it below nine, they also never gave the feeling that they were a beaten opponent.
On an individual basis, this game was about Remy Abell. He led Xavier in scoring with a 13/0/1 line on 6-8/1-1/0-0 shooting. We knew he could shoot from his Indiana scouting report, but he is incredible in transition and finishing in traffic, as he demonstrated today with a couple of nifty left-handed finishes at the rim.
We also knew Abell could defend. Though Gulf Coast star Bernard Thompson's 15 points were superficially impressive, he shot just 4-13/4-7/5-6. Every field goal he hit came from behind the arc, and none of them came when Abell was guarding him. When Remy was out, Thompson put three threes on Myles Davis and one on Dee. When Remy was in, Thompson did nothing and never looked like doing more.
I should probably mention James Farr. He had 7/9/0 with a steal and a block, but it came on 3-10/1-3/0-2 shooting. Farr was 2-4 on stickback attempts and 0-3 on other shots from inside the arc. It was incredibly encouraging to see him hit a three and get back to doing his thing on the glass - despite fighting cramps - but it's still somewhat confusing to me that a man that size could struggle so mightily to score two-point baskets.
Matt Stainbrook did not have any such problems, shooting 4-6/0-0/3-6 on his way to 11/7/4 on the night. Only foul trouble - he had two within the first ten minutes - kept him from higher volume numbers. FGCU couldn't stop him one-on-one, and doubling him just begs him to find an open shooter, which he was only too happy to do. Xavier has good depth, but Matt is still a big key to this team on a nightly basis.
Beyond that, the offense was generally somewhat tepid, especially in the second half. Jalen Reynolds deserves mention for his 7/3/0 and 3 blocks, but he picked up 3 fouls in 17 minutes. Consistency from him would be nice to see going into conference play. On the whole, Xavier managed to walk away with this one while still not making me feel great going forward. Is it just me, or do you have uncertainties about X going into Big East play?
Odds and ends:
-Dee Davis shot 4-12/1-3/3-4 and continued to demonstrate an odd fondness for driving into traffic from which he would have trouble finishing.
-Xavier was a miserable 9-17 from the line, so I suppose a decent effort from there would have made this a 20-point win and helped me feel better.
-16 assists on 28 field goals isn't bad at all.
-The Muskies forced 16 turnovers (23.5% TO rate) from a team that usually takes pretty good care of the ball.
That's it from me. Brad will recap in the morning, and we'll have the Xavier power rankings and the polls in the afternoon. Drive sober this New Year's Eve, Xavier fans.