The season is still young, so we are going to focus on the positive to start this thing out. It's November, no panic here. James Farr (15/14/2) came off the bench for 24 minutes and flat out dominated the game. Regardless of anything else that may have happened, or not happened, Big Game James very nearly singlehandedly kept Xavier in the lead in a game it seemed at times they were trying to give away.
Xavier actually started this game on something of a tear. After Trevon Bluiett (18/7/0) scored five and JP Macura (16/3/2), who would have been the story on many other days, chipped in six, the Musketeers were up 19-12 and looking like they were going to click in and put the game on ice early. Instead, Xavier ripped off a grand total of five points in the next seven minutes to end up trailing 25-24 with four minutes to play in the first half. From taking a seven point lead with more than 30 minutes to play, Xavier had essentially reset the entire game with only 24 minutes to play. In that span, no one stepped up to take the scoring reins.
More alarmingly, Xavier went 0-7 on jumpshots during that drought. Rather than pound the ball inside and look for easy buckets or a trip to the line, the Musketeers reverted to taking shots they could easily find. As the offense went lazy, Jalen Reynolds (0/2/1) was picking up the fouls that would render him a non-factor in the game. If Xavier fans had two major concerns coming into the season it would have been an offense that occasionally sputtered and Jalen being unable to stop fouling. Last night, both of those were serious issues.
Xavier led 37-36 at the half, but for a team that had hardly impressed in beating Miami (Oh), it was hardly the dominating performance the coaching staff and fans wanted to see. Thanks to the drought, Xavier shot .367/.267/.853 against a Missouri team that had played no one and still wasn't expected to be defensively stout coming in. (Xavier's defense was hardly great, but that's a concern for another day).Thankfully, there are two halves to every game, and Xavier was about to make the most of the next 20 minutes.
Prior to the first media timeout in the second half, only two Musketeers scored. That may not sound good, but those two (Bluiett and Farr), went for nine points between them in those first five minutes. Xavier rode that to surge to an eight point lead that they never would relinquish. Missouri cut it to five before Bluiett drilled another three pointer that pushed the lead back out to 10. Bluiett went for 13 points on 4-6 shooting in the second half as he made concerted effort to exert himself on the game. Edmond Sumner (12/5/2) and Reynolds are going to get a lot of press this season, but it's Bluiett who is going to shoulder the scoring load. Last night, he stepped into that role with aplomb.
James Farr was not in the mood to be overshadowed, though. The big man scored 12 and ripped down eight boards in 15 second half minutes. While the Fox announcers marveled that a bench player could somehow grasp the concept of basketball, Farr reminded anyone who had done an iota of research of his qualities. Jalen is a huge key to this team and he will have games where he dominates quality opponents, but to suggest that James Farr doesn't also have a big role to play would be to miss what he's done the last two season. Perhaps even more impressive than the raw numbers were the constant effort that Farr put in to get them. While a couple of boards may have bounced right to him, most of his production was a result of unceasing effort.
Xavier never did thunder off into the distance against the Tigers, but the game wasn't in doubt after the spurt to start the second half. The lead was six at 10:30 but Macura and Bluiett pushed it back to nine and Xavier never looked back. The lead peaked at 15 and Xavier's defense made sure that Mizzou couldn't make a run. In the second half the Tigers shot only 37% from the floor and, despite lifting 16 three point attempts, couldn't get anything going to get back close. 2-0 wasn't pretty, but not every win will be. For now, as the young Musketeers figure out how the team will get rolling this year they can rest a bit easier knowing that Big Game James can play games like this.
- Where do Makinde London and LAJ fit on this team? London played four minutes and grabbed a couple of rebounds. More importantly, he didn't look lost on the floor. The kid has talent, but he's going to have to work very hard to get on the floor. LAJ (4/0/0) played 15 minutes in full attack mode. He's clearly the second choice point guard right now, but a second choice guard who grabs three steals and doesn't turn the ball over is a definite luxury.
- Can Xavier take care of the ball? A turnover rate of 18.1% was better than last games 21% and would land almost exactly in the middle of the nation were that to be the season average. 13 turnovers is a step in the right direction, but starting the game with two straight travelling violations is the kind of wastefulness that shouldn't plague a team with this much obvious talent.
- Can the Musketeers guard the perimeter? A quick refresher: according to all the available advanced metrics, defense has a bigger impact on the amount of three point field goals taken than the rate at which they are converted. With that in mind the fact that Missouri got off 23 three pointers doesn't look good. The plus side of that is only six of those went down and some of them were genuinely horrible shots. We'll say the jury is still out on this one.
Tweet of the Game:
It was a tie this week. I didn't get into the officiating because I try to avoid situations that make me angry. It was those refs that spurred our best tweets, though.
@BannersParkway what's the point of a shorter shot clock when they call a foul every other possession?— Jason Vaccarelli (@_eastcoastbias) November 18, 2015