What happened: Villanova 77 - Xavier 70
This game took on a not-unfamiliar rhythm, as Xavier played reasonable stretches of basketball but eventually fell behind by double-digits. When desperation took hold, the Musketeers played some of their best basketball of the night, storming back just enough that fans who left early were made to look foolish in their unbelief. Just when the game was within touching distance, the opponent made just enough plays to keep Xavier from coming all the way back. I can recall off the top of my head losing the USC game this way, losing at Creighton this way, losing twice to Seton Hall in similar fashion, and now losing this way tonight against Nova in the final home game of the season. With that setback, Xavier will likely need to win at least once in the Big East tournament to keep their bubble hopes alive. They will also likely face Nova if they get that win.
Good JMart shouldered the load for Xavier in the biggest game of the year, as is befitting a man of his age and skill. He put up 20/6/1 on 5-11/3-8/7-7 shooting and was present and engaged the whole time. He did commit 4 turnovers, but he was Xavier's best and most efficient scoring option all night. I'm beyond trying to figure him out, but I have determined that X needs him to show up big in the next couple of weeks if they want to make the NCAA tournament.
With the Stain Train temporarily in the shop, Xavier was always going to have trouble on the glass tonight. Spot starter Jalen Reynolds did his best in posting 6/6/0 on 3-4/0-0/0-0 shooting, but Xavier was well below their season averages in both OReb% (26.8% tonight) and DReb% (68.9% tonight). Villanova guard James Bell lead the way with 8 boards, and I have to imagine he wouldn't have found the pickings so easy with Stainbrook out there.
I said before the game that I felt like Philmore could go for 13 and 8, and he ended up getting 15 and 4 on 5-8/0-0/5-6 shooting despite also finding time to rack up 4 fouls. On Senior Night, he clearly didn't want to go out like a punk, and he made his minutes count for the team. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite enough.
Semaj tried to take over and wasn't able to for Xavier. With few go-to scoring options inside, he lifted early and often to the tune of 7-22/0-4/4-8 shooting on his way to 18/2/6. There's no question Christon felt the burden of trying to lead the team, and - while he never well and truly got going - there's also no shame in having a tough night when one of the best defenses in the nation is keying on stopping you. Semaj has a week to bounce back, and I'm confident he'll be ready for Xavier's first-round opponent in the Big East Tournament.
In a post during the week (linked below), I discussed how much Xavier needed a second three-point shooter to augment Justin Martin's surprisingly steady contributions from deep. The Musketeers didn't get that tonight, as the team combined to go 6-24, and non-Martin entities were 3-16 (18.8%). That, obviously, is not good. Dee was a respectable 2-6, but James Farr and Myles Davis followed their recent patterns of not having enough confidence and having too much (respectively) in going 0-1 (Farr) and 1-5 (Myles). More troublingly, a couple of Myles's misses weren't particularly close. I hope a week is enough for those guys to get right, because Xavier needs one of them to be hitting.
And that's about it. JMart, Semaj, and Philmore carried the scoring load, Dee pitched in without turning the ball over much, and the team desperately missed Matt Stainbrook. Now the wait is on to see who Xavier will face in their first Big East Tournament game. Providence has sewn up the three seed, and St. John's, Marquette, and Georgetown are all hanging around trying to figure out who will play Xavier. This Musketeers team is flawed but talented and hard-working. A week is not enough time to iron out all of the kinks, but it will be enough time to recharge the batteries and hopefully get back Matt Stainbrook to make a run in Madison Square Garden.
Odds and ends:
-Xavier managed to only turn the ball over 10 times, which is a very good total against a very good defense.
-The opposition's three-point shooting once again plagued the Muskies, as Villanova was 9-22 from deep.
-Brandon Randolph was a foul away from picking up a trillion in five minutes of playing time.
-Xavier had 12 assists on 23 made buckets, which is not a good sign in terms of ball movement.
-X was 18-23 from the line; thank goodness we get our fro-yo.
-As soon as we know who Xavier plays in the Big East Tournament, we'll let you know.