This game was, in theory, done with 4:36 to play in the first half. At that point Xavier first hit the 14 point margin by which they would eventually win. The margin never drifted below nine the rest of the way as, in theory, the Musketeers cruised to a victory over a game but ultimately overmatched Florida Gulf Coast. I keep saying in theory because, in practice, that's not what this game was at all.
In practice Xavier was uneven, perhaps expected after eight days and a major holiday since the last game, poor offensively for the final 20 minutes, and uninclined to bury a team that was quite overmatched. Florida Gulf Coast took a 2-0 lead, relinquished it at 5-4 with 1:04 off the clock and never seriously threatened to regain that lead. The Eagles shot 37% from the floor and turned the ball over 16 times and yet Xavier still only managed a 14 point win. Xavier got up 64 shots on only 71 possessions against a team that managed only .84 points per possession and still only were able to win by 14.
That's not to say the news was all bad, Xavier did win this game and FGCU never really threatened to put a damper on proceedings. An 11-3 run in the first half opened the lead and a 7-1 run when the gap dropped to nine put the game away. The Musketeers spent large portions of the game looking like an older brother who is never going to let his younger sibling win, but also doesn't want things to go so out of reach that the kid quits. As annoying as that can be to watch take place on a playground, it's just as annoying when it happens on FS1. Xavier played smothering defense and held Bernard Thompson without a two point field goal. They also allowed the Eagles to go 8-16 from behind the arc.
The stifling of Thompson undoubtedly set the tone for the game. Remy Abell (13/0/1) came to Xavier with the reputation as a shutdown defender and in the first half today, he was that and more. Thompson came into the game as the Eagles leading scorer and promptly went 0-5 from the field and scored two points in the first half. He'll have nightmares in which the things attacking him won't be as underneath his skin as Abell was all night long. By the time Thompson finally started scoring, the game was functionally over. Without their big gun, FGCU had no clue what to do on offense. The 8-16 from deep goes a long way toward masking how incredibly bad they really were.
And part of that credit will, finally, go to the coaching staff for making a long-awaited adjustment. The Musketeers opened the game in the man to man that they generally play, but spent long periods in a 2-3 zone that they also seemed to match up out of. While the zone may have prevented complete domination of the glass, the teams tied at 37 rebounds a piece, it also prevented a parade of uncontested layups after the guards were summarily run past.
Xavier made adjustments on the offensive end as well. The three bigs, augmented this game by Sean O'Mara (4/2/0), took 22 of Xavier's 64 field goal attempts. Matt Stainbrook (11/7/4) was effective despite being harassed by double teams all game, while Jalen Reynolds (7/3/0) was limited by foul trouble and James Farr (7/9/0) was limited by not scoring in the paint.
The above chart illustrates the difficulty that Farr had scoring in the lane. While his rebounding effort remained off the charts and his shot selection was, at least superficially, better, he still just could not convert inside. Last season James shot 61% inside the arc, this year that number has dropped to 44%. Add in the ill advised three pointers, one of which caught nothing but backboard, and it was a 3-10 day from the floor for Xavier's beleaguered big, who left the game late with cramps. That said, the amount of shots he got in the paint is encouraging, especially if he starts to knock them down.
In all, this was Xavier winning the kind of game that they should win. Florida Gulf Coast is a decent Atlantic Sun team that the Musketeers got at home. There were no unnecessary travails, no major runs to squelch, and no real drama to the game. Still, it felt like Xavier left a lot of the game on the floor last night. An effort like this against a team like Georgetown could lead to a very different result.
- Will FGCU stretch their offense? The Eagles only take 24% of their shots as threes normally. Last night that number jumped to only 29%, so there wasn't really a concerted effort to start chucking from deep. Xavier allowed a 50% mark from behind the arc but, as we've mentioned previously, teams control attempts more than percentage. Only allowing 16 tries could be a small step in the right direction.
- Will Stainbrook be available? The Stain Train was limited to 24 minutes, but foul trouble also had somethingt o do with that. As the big man is averaging 25.8 minutes per game, we're going to call this one a win for Sudafed.
- Is Xavier's perimeter defense up to the task? Switching on and off the zone really seemed to make a difference for Xavier's guards. The Davis brothers (whom the announcer kept somehow confusing) are still both very susceptible to being run past on the outside, but having a back line in position helped. The six blocks from the big men probably also helped.