Every season, good teams with high aspirations get taken by surprise early on and end up with a blemish on their tournament resume before it even begins to form. Some survive these missteps and still make the tournament, while others cannot convince the committee that their unflattering loss was an aberration. One thing is for sure for every college hoops fan, though: no one wants to start 0-1. For a Xavier team with expectations that wipe out their social calendar on March weekends, tonight it would be important not to damage the resume before it is built against a veteran Miami RedHawks squad intent on doing just that.
For Xavier fans hoping to see a kinder, gentler Jalen Reynolds this season, I will direct you to the first seven seconds of the game, after which he committed his first foul. By the time he got himself on the board, Edmond Sumner already had 4 and last year's freshman sensation, Trevon Bluiett, had opened the scoring for X on the season, but stops were proving difficult to come by for Xavier's man to man set in the early going, and Rod Mills picked up five early points to keep Xavier to an 8-6 lead at the first media timeout.
Reynolds' ability to replace Matt Stainbrook as a reliable scoring option down low has been one of the major questions about Xavier this season, but if the early going tonight is anything to go by, X fans can rest easy. By the 11:22 mark, he had 8, but Dion Wade's three pointer game Miami their first lead of the night at 18-17, which last all of 12 seconds before Bluiett answered.
Xavier looked to have some momentum building when Edmond Sumner pushed the lead to 6 at the 8 minute mark, but the referees hadn't done anything obviously obtuse yet, so Sumner received a technical for hanging on the rim, ignoring the fact that he did it to avoid breaking an opponent's leg. A four point trip was answered a couple of possessions later by a Remy Abell transition three, and Xavier had a 5 point lead going to the under 8.
From 6:36 to 2:47, JP Macura would take the scoring load upon himself, exploding for 10 of Xavier's 12 points over that span. He would show off his entire range of scoring ablities in the span as well, hitting mid range jumpers, three pointers, layups in traffic, and free throws. Still, a lack of stops kept even Macura's one man show from creating any separation and Xavier would head into the half seeking answers on defense and leading by 5.
What Xavier needed was a run to start the second half and take Miami out of the game, which is exactly what they got. Myles Davis and Edmond Sumner threes bookended a 12-3 run over the first four minutes that stretched the lead to 57-43 and looked for all the world to be the end of Miami tonight. The RedHawks needed and answers and fast if they were to hang on to hope of winning this game.
What followed brought out every resume ruining horror scenario that Xavier fans refused to even think about prior to the game. X would go 7 minutes without scoring, as an 11-0 Miami run would bring the game right back into the balance and Xavier would be left looking like a group still trying to find Stainbrook for a big basket. James Farr snapped the run and tried to reignite the Xavier offense, but with 9 minutes left, all the momentum was in Miami's corner.
On nights when shots are not falling, players primarily counted on as scorers sometimes have trouble making their presence felt. Despite having last scored with 10:51 to go in the first half, Trevon Bluiett showed his value to Xavier down the stretch tonight. First he got a board and converted the ensuing possession to restore the lead to 5. After Miami ran it all the way back to 1, Bluiett found Jalen for a dunk to get Xavier going again. After two JP Macura free throws, Bluiett again turned provider and found Macura in the corner off of an out of bounds play to restore the lead to 8. Nearly 3 completely scoreless minutes later, he finished the run he helped start with a three of his own to kill the game off, staking Xavier to an 11 point lead with 2:45 to play.
From there, Miami would be reluctant to cede the game to X, but Reynolds' improved execution from the line as well as Sumner's ability to convert there as well brought Xavier a tense but hard fought opening victory in a game where Xavier had to dig deep for some mettle to survive Miami's best shot.