Last night, Xavier played on the road. While that has recently become shorthand for saying "Xavier lost," the game itself hardly unfolded like a normal road loss. While the terrible first half remained intact from all the other road struggles, this time Xavier failed to make free throws, went 2-16 from behind the arc, and didn't get annihilated from behind the arc. A furious comeback late in the game tied things up just in time for overtime and a gutting loss. This was never going to be an easy win, though, and there are three reasons that things are looking up for Xavier going forward.
1. Coach Mack made the adjustment
What do you do when the other team has two actual giants and is in the midst of going 3-21 from behind the arc? You zone them. For all the criticism that Coach Mack routinely (and sometimes rightfully) gets about failing to make in game adjustments, it was his willingness to scrap the man to man and go zone that helped Xavier get back in the game. The Musketeers didn't play zone the entire second half, but the were in and out of it before permanently making the switch around the four minute mark. For the half, Providence was 8-24 with six turnovers. Though everyone will remember the two three pointers late, the Friars were a very livable 2-10 behind the arc.
Coach Mack also massaged his rotation a good deal. With the game in climactic moments, Myles Davis, JP Macura, Dee Davis, Jalen Reynolds, and Matt Stainbrook got most of the minutes. Remy Abell was ineffective all night and, with the team playing zone, his defensive abilities weren't as vital. Rather than stick with the usual, Coach Mack made the adjustment to go with the hot hands and it very nearly worked to steal the game.
2. The team never quit
As a Cleveland Browns fan, I've seen plenty of teams quit when trailing (or leading, or tied) late in a game. Xavier was down 10 with 3:12 to play in the game and then lost Trevon Bluiett when he committed a foul so vicious he split the skin above his own eye. Despite that, the Musketeers kept playing with a high level of intensity. It says a lot about a team that they didn't just pack it in. Instead, Xavier ratcheted up the defensive pressure out of their zone and came up with three straight turnovers to get back in the game. Myles Davis and Jalen Reynolds were especially effervescent and scored the nine points that tied the game up. The comeback was an indicator of a team still willing to play hard for a coach and each other. That carries forward and will give Xavier that little boost of confidence the next time they find themselves down late.
3. The shooting won't be that bad every night
Xavier is shooting only 30.6% from deep in conference play, but even that would have been enough to win the game last night. Xavier normally shoots 74.8% from the free throw line but last night only went 16-25. While that's inexcusable, it's reasonable to assume that it was a blip, not a disturbing new trend. Matt Stainbrook was only 8-19, off his usual 63% from inside the arc. Yes, Providence played good defense and other teams will as well, but Xavier can shoot the ball and going forward they will shoot the ball. It's hard to stomach in a loss like last night's, but the shooting will come back and it will bring the offense back with it.