What happened: Xavier 64 - Butler 50
In a game that was less "must win" than "must not lose," Xavier put together a complete defensive performance that crushed Butler's spirits early and put the game to bed well before the mid-way point of the second half. Butler shot 39.3% from inside the arc and 28% from beyond it on their way to 50 points on 56 possessions (.89 PPP), and that's even with Xavier coming off the defensive throttle with 12 minutes to go. In the 28 minutes in which Xavier was contesting the game, they gave up 24 points in 41 possessions.
It started with Dee Davis. I know I'm basically the least objective source on the internet for Dee Davis related news, but he was magnificent last night. He set the tone defensively in hassling Kellen Dunham into 2/1/3 with 2 turnovers on 1-10/0-5/0-0 shooting. On the other end, he recovered from a cold start to post 9/3/9 on 3-7/3-6/0-0 shooting and only one turnover. Despite playing 36 minutes of stifling defense on the man who came in as the conference's fourth-leading scorer, Dee picked up only one foul. This was a vintage performance for him, and it was nice to see him back in rhythm.
Semaj scored the most casual 15/4/3 that you're ever likely to see, doing it on 6-11/0-0/3-5 shooting while only turning the ball over once. Christon never appeared to attempt to assert his will on the game. Instead, he attacked the basket a couple of times, hit a couple of nice jumpers off the bounce, and generally kept the ball moving for his team, all while giving the impression that he probably could have gone for 30 if the situation had required.
Becuase of their limited size inside, Butler spent the game doubling the post. This caused problems for Matt Stainbrook, whose respectable 6/9/2 on 3-5/0-0/0-0 shooting was dragged down by five turnovers. Stainbrook wasn't posting quite as low on the floor as you would like to see, and this led to his having to dribble to get into position, which in turn led to turnovers. When he was able to survey the court without having to put the ball on the deck first, his court vision was up to its normal high standard. To his credit, his effort on the glass and on defense never waned, and Butler wanted no part of him in either area.
Noted bench scorer Isaiah Philmore checked in early and got 23 minutes of playing time on his way to 10/5/2 on 5-10/0-0/0-0 shooting. Philmore missed a couple of shots close to the basket, but he hit three mid-range jumpers when Butler left him room. The knock on Philmore is that he doesn't make teams respect him in the flow of the offense, so it was good to see him hitting something other than a stickback. The knock on Justin Martin is that his impact on the game waxes and wanes enough to impact the tidal patterns of small bodies of water, and that was the case last night. After being saddled with a couple of early fouls, he appeared to realize the game was leaving him behind. He responded with 7 of his 9 points in the second half, including a long three that he took for no apparent reason and a dunk so emphatic that he received a technical foul. He'll return to wherever it is he goes between games satisfied with his 9/2/0 on 4-7/1-3/0-0 shooting.
And that was pretty much it. Everyone who saw minutes scored with the exception of James Farr, who had 2 steals, and Tim Stainbrook, who had a two-minute trillion. Erik Stenger and Jalen Reynolds combined for 7/2/0 in 24 minutes. Myles Davis and Brandon Randolph each hit a three-point basket. Even the fans had an exceptional game, overwhelming the Butler "faithful" to the extent that you could hear the "Let's go X!" chant through the TV and radio broadcasts. The Muskies needed to come away from this one with one of the last perfunctory wins left on the schedule, and they did just that.
Odds and ends:
-Xavier had 18 assists on 27 made baskets and continues to move the ball well.
-The Muskies had 12 turnovers and are now 11-1 on the season in games with 12 or fewer TO.
-My favorite stat of the night: Erik Stenger outscored Kellen Dunham.
-My second-favorite stat of the night: Byron Larkin referred to Kellen Dunham as Kelli no fewer than seven times during the radio broadcast.
-X rebounded 42.3% of their own misses.
-There were 18 fouls called (including Martin's technical) and 17 free throws attempted in this game as the officials continue to struggle to apply the rules with any sort of consistency.
-Butler was able to get up 25 three-point attempts; just something to keep in mind.
-"Dee's shot is awful."
-"Dee is colder than the weather."
-"Dee now 1-12 [ed. note: that first three actually made him 1 of his last 14 from deep]. He was due."
-"Feed the wolf!"
-"Don't wake Dee up! He's the new JMart!"
-"They have got to stop the high hedge. Reynolds slow on the switch and gets dunked on. Stainbrook picks up a foul 32 feet from the bucket. Stop the madness!"
-"Why would Butler ever play man?"
-"Nice dime by Dee."
-"Stain really sees the floor and passes well."
-"Stenger is a grinder."
-"Stain off the inbound; don't they watch film?"
-"Jim Burr must not like Stain."
-"St. John's beat Doug McDermott?"
-"Wow, it's going bad for Butler; they just threw the inbounds off the back of the backboard."
-"This is almost embarrassing."
-"Nice assist from Dee to Good JMart. Impressive slam."
-"JMart dealing tonight."
-"Randolph finally shoots... and scores. Dee inspired him."
-"The final score will not show how well they played defense."
-"Always good to beat Butler."
At this point, I usually tell you that Brad's narrative recap is forthcoming, but handled that last night so I could go to bed. Click the link below to get to it; it's a sterling read. I need to know why Byron Larkin calls Kellen Dunham by the name Kelli. He clearly knows the correct name, because he corrected himself while introducing the starting lineups. Does he just forget in the heat of the moment? Did he get his heart broken by a girl named Kelli, probably with a side ponytail and acid-wash jeans (the girl, not Byron)? I just feel like there must be a story there. Anyway, Xavier plays again Saturday in a pivotal road game at Marquette.