In a game that was hard not to see as a must win for Xavier, if they were to maintain even a reasonable hope of setting themselves up for an at-large bid, it seemed like they were doing anything in their power to lose the game at times. With Remy Abell continuing his exile on the bench, Xavier staggered out of the gate and, when Matt Carlino scored his first three of the game at the 15:21 mark in the first half, the Muskies found themselves already staring down a 10-2 deficit.
Xavier fought out of their early hole, but turnovers hamstrung the offense in the first half as Marquette's variety of zones kept the Musketeer ball handlers off balance and notably tentative for the first 20 minutes. A surge near the 9 minute mark brought it back within four points, but once again the Golden Eagles ratcheted up the pressure and Xavier rather obligingly turned it over three of the next four trips as Marquette enjoyed leads as large as 11 in the closing stages of the first half. Marquette was playing looks that Xavier had not played against a lot this year, and Xavier looked completely unprepared in the first half, turning the ball over 12 times and shooting just 37% from the field. Things looked bleak at the half, with Xavier having turned the ball over just shy of half of their possessions in the first half, and looking to be barely in the game while only trailing by 9.
Much has been made about the need for Xavier to adjust more quickly in games, and with Xavier enjoying a healthy +8 rebounding margin at the half, Chris Mack decided to bank on the fact that a smaller lineup could keep Luke Fischer and Juan Anderson at bay while affording Xavier more shooters with which to stretch Marquette's zone. The risk being run was that if Fischer gets going he can be a tough offensive player, having shot a perfect 6-6 at Georgetown on his way to 13 points against Josh Smith. However, with Stainbrook and Reynolds (!) not in foul trouble, Mack put his faith in the ability of his guards to handle Anderson and hoped X could bomb their way back into it. He also decided Remy Abell could start the second half.
The switch paid almost immediate dividends as Remy Abell splashing a fast break three sent Xavier into the under-16 media timeout having slashed the lead to 5. With Anderson already on three fouls, things continued to go Xavier's way when Fischer picked up his third foul as well, meaning 6'7" Steve Taylor would have to shoulder the load for Marquette underneath. This played further into Xavier's plan of speeding the game up and extending Marquette's zone and two scoreless minutes later, Myles Davis got in on the act by sinking three free throws and setting up 14 minutes of big shots and big answers.
Matt Carlino came into the game with the profile of a scorer who got his points mostly by taking tons of shots. His best three point percentage for a season at BYU, where he had spent the past three seasons, was a fairly pedestrian 35. However, in a match-up against former Bloomington South teammate Dee Davis, Carlino was a nightmare for Xavier in the second half, and answered Xavier's run to cut it to two with a three of his own.
After a layup by Duane Wilson, first Myles then Abell salvoed back for the Muskies to cut it to one again. Once again Carlino drained a three on the ensuing possession to push the lead back to two possessions with just under 9 minutes remaining. After another pair of Wilson free throws, James Farr made his presence felt with a baseline cut and slam off the feed from Stainbrook. With the momentum firmly shifting Xavier's way, the final 8 minutes would be a test of if they could get over the hump and lead a game they had trailed by double digits as recently as the 17:41 mark in the second half.
All comebacks are built on stops, and Xavier seemed intent on locking everyone but Carlino out of the game for Marquette. If the senior could make every shot he attempted in the second half, the gameplan was in trouble, but with 7:44 left in the game, Carlino finally missed his first three of the second half. Speaking of people who were on fire for those 12 minutes, Remy Abell caught Stainbrook's kickout on the other end and drained his fourth three pointer of the second half, giving Xavier their first lead of the game with 7:20 to play. Xavier pushed it to as many as four, but were unable to get stops as Fischer was able to keep Marquette close until Carlino hauled them back off the mat again with back-to-back threes to tie the game again with only 3:32 to play.
From there, Xavier just needed a few more big shots to make the comeback complete and Myles Davis, held scoreless in the first half, stepped up to show he was the man for the job. First, he nailed a three to restore the lead, which Carlino answered by hitting three free throws. Not to be denied on what he apparently decided was going to be his moment, Myles knocked down his third three of the second half and gave Xavier a lead they would not relinquish for the last 1:46 of the contest. A pair of clutch Bluiett free throws and a heave in traffic from Carlino which Bluiett rebounded spelled victory for the Musketeers on a say when it came through much frustration for the Musketeers.
Who will start for Xavier? JP Macura got the call again today, but was largely ineffective, going 1-2 with two turnovers in nine first half minutes before not appearing in the second half. Meanwhile, Jalen Reynolds mad his first start of the year and was probably the lone Musketeer to acquit himself well in the first half, getting 4/6/0 and not fouling anyone in 14 minutes. However, he only saw four second half minutes, as Xavier ratcheted up the pace.
Who controls the tempo? Ultimately, this one played out at a tempo much closer to what Marquette like than Xavier, but in the second half, Xavier did get eight fast break points and were able to adjust in the half-court to cut the turnovers down to just four. Overall, X got to run a bit more, but also solved Marquette's zone a bit, too.
Where is this game being played? It was indeed in the Cintas Center, but for the first half Xavier played like one of their now infamous road performances. Once they got re-acclimated and began making their run, the Xavier faithful roared on their comeback, and definitely made their presence felt on the second half of the game. Would this have happened on the road? Hard to say, but Xavier is looking pretty tough to beat at home right now.