This game really boiled down to two shots. After a back and forth first half highlighted to a great deal by Caris LeVert and the relentless attacking of the Musketeers, the game drew to a sharp point two times in the second half, and both times Xavier had the answer. Shortly after fouls on Jalen Reynolds (15/9/0) and Larry Austin Jr. (2/1/1), the Wolverines drew within two on back to back threes from Duncan Robinson. Remy Abell caught the ball on rotation and answered from the corner. Two minutes later and within only a quarter of the game to play, it was LeVert who drained a three to bring the Wolverines within a bucket. This time it was JP Macura (8/2/2) who answered the bell with a three pointer of his own. Twice Michigan got the home crowd rocking a ready to carry the team on a run, and twice Xavier threw a hammer back the other way. The details follow, but that was the game. Xavier was uncowed on the road against a Top 25 Big Ten opponent. The Musketeers look very much for real.
The Musketeers did not look like much of a threat to start the game. They jumped to a 7-0 lead and then promptly coughed it up by surrendering a run of 10-3 that came with a 7-1 deficit on the glass. Given that Xavier went on to hold a massive advantage on the glass and could have rightly been expected to coming in, the early run was worryingly outside the script. The story early (really, the story for the game) was Caris LeVert for Michigan. No matter what Xavier ran at him, and they adjusted frequently, he could not be stopped. LeVert had 16 points in 18 minutes in the first half and his 16/7/2 in one half kept his team in it. It also lent some credence to the idea that perhaps Remy Abell's (15/0/1) defensive abilities have been slightly oversold.
Throughout the first half, though, Xavier had offensive answers. Reynolds had 13, Abell had 10, and Myles Davis (14/6/3) chipped in with eight of his own. With 11 to play, Michigan led by four until an Abell six point run. The Wolverines pushed back ahead by a score of 32-30 with 4:30 to play. That proved to be the last lead the home team would hold. LAJ tied the game and JP Macura gave X the lead with a three. Three straight Reynolds free throws followed and suddenly it was Xavier up six. The half ended in a manner fitting with the whole game. Jalen Reynolds kept the lead at six by making a shot clock beating jumper to make it 40-34. Only, on replay it seemed the ball was clearly still in Jalen's hand as the clock struck zero. Undeterred, the refs let it stand. Myles Davis then got LeVert in the air and ended the half by sinking three free throws that were probably fairly earned but still stood as an example of how involved the officials were in this game.
And make no mistake, the refs were heavily involved. 48 fouls called in 40 minutes comes to a foul every 50 seconds. The teams combined to shoot 52 free throws, further depriving what could have been a great game of any flow that it did have. Everyone wants freedom of movement and high scoring, exciting basketball. Games like this, however, are too high a price to pay. This game featured two teams that wanted to go end to end, pressure the ball, and get to the rim. It could have been great to watch. Instead, the referees imposed themselves on proceedings as if the 12,000 packing the Crisler Center were there to watch them. It's one thing to call the game consistently tightly, but the officials are struggling with the rules as much as the players. Some of the calls were certainly fouls, some were inside the realm of reason, and some, such as Jalen's fourth, belonged in the theater of the absurd.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the Ref Show Xavier led by nine at the half and had put up 45 points on .433/.667/.882 shooting. It was, without question, the best half of the season to date. As mentioned in the lead paragraph, Michigan made two very solid runs to drag themselves back into the game. There's not really enough that can be said about the game the returning Caris LeVert played. His 29/7/3 stood out for a Michigan team that found itself shut down in the second half. A lot has right been made of Xavier shooting a scorching 43% from deep, but they also held the Wolverines to 31% shooting in the second half. Michigan still got off 26 threes but, much like Missouri, they resorted to chucking them up in garbage time.
After JP Macura hit his momentum draining three, Xavier held the lead at four for two minutes before burying the game. Trevon Bluiett (15/9/3) hit a three, James Farr (8/13/0) hit a jumper, and the floodgates started to open. It was the freshman point guard that finally drove the nails. Edmond Sumner (9/2/3) had been hampered by foul trouble, as had everyone, but knifed through the defense for a layup and scored Xavier's next three with an absolute dagger that made the lead 15 and put the game beyond all doubt. Michigan had made a run, twice, but it was Xavier's 12-1 response that put the game away. On the road, against one of the undisputed big boys of college basketball, the Musketeers sent a message.
-How does Xavier match up? This question dealt with stopping Caris LeVert, which was something the Musketeers didn't do. Other than him though, Xavier kept any other Wolverines from reaching double digits in scoring. Duncan Robinson had nine, Zak Irvin had seven, and no one else did much of anything.
-How much zone? A lot. Xavier surrendered a lot of three point looks but absolutely destroyed the Wolverines on the glass. Out of the 1-3-1 the wings were crashing down and Reynolds and Farr just ate the Michigan big men, who are soft as melted butter. Sumner had nine boards, Myles Davis had six and the aforementioned bigs combined for 19. Rebounding out of a zone can be difficult at times. It wasn't last night,
-Which Jalen shows up? Jalen got called for some absurd fouls, got a technical for hanging on the rim with players under him, and was clearly the focus of the Michigan gameplan. He responded by going for 15/9/0 and going 7-9 from the line. Seth Davis harped on Jalen's rep as an "emotional" (what does that even mean?) player hurting him, but he dominated the Wolverines down low.
Tweet of the Game:
@BannersParkway Holy cow, I feel like this is the team Mack has been working towards this whole time. He is looking like a mad genius!!!— XUfan2012 (@XUFan2012) November 21, 2015
This was undoubtedly one of the best coached games of the Chris Mack tenure. On the road with two inexperienced point guards and foul trouble for almost everyone on the roster, Mack engineered a 16 point win and kept his duo of big men involved and mutilating Michigan in the post. Well done, Coach.