I've heard it said that if you mess with the tiger you run the risk of getting the teeth. Wake Forest and the Joel Coliseum crowd forgot that tonight. While the Demon Deacons and their fans celebrated their win in the first half and the heavily partisan ACC announcers crowed about the toughness of the venue, Xavier didn't panic. In a second half that neither set of fans is likely to forget any time soon, Wake got the teeth.
In the first half, Xavier was abject. They shot 29% from the floor, they turned the ball over nine times, they fouled any and everyone they got near (at least according to another all-star officiating crew). The Musketeers for all the world looked like a team that hadn't been on the road in front of a mildly hostile crowd before. With the Demon Deacons wanting to run, Xavier obliged, throwing the ball all over the place, taking bad shots, and just generally playing bad basketball. Wake scored 19 points off of run outs from turnovers.
To call the first half infuriating would be an understatement. On Twitter, Semaj Christon logged in from Italy to ask what was going on. It was easily the worst half Xavier had played all year. If Wake did anything, it was show that Xavier may like to play faster this year, but they don't like to play at a sprint. If not for an Edmond Sumner (21/9/2) stickback, Xavier would have trailed by 17 at the half.
That was the first half, though, and there are two halves in most games these days. Xavier came out with a Trevon Bluiett (17/9/1) three, a Remy Abell (8/1/2) and one, and then a Sumner free throw and another Bluiett bucket. It was a six point deficit before the Deacons even realized that they were facing off against the #6 team in the nation. Wake didn't stanch the bleeding until a couple of free throws made it 45-38 with 16:29 to go. Xavier was coming now, though, and there was nothing the North Carolinians could do about it.
Trevon buried another three before the games signature moment, once again provided by Xavier's cherub faced point guard. Edmond Sumner caught the ball at half court with the lead standing at five and a wave of momentum behind him. Sumner had some moments this game where it almost seemed like he couldn't even harness his speed, but in this moment it was with him. He sprinted toward the lane, ripped between tow defenders and, with the same high cocked right arm he deployed on Octavious Ellis (may he rest in pieces), crushed the ball through the rim.
This time that didn't end the game, but it certainly ended the absurdly celebratory atmosphere in Wake. Xavier was within two now and looking very much like a shark toying with a seal. Less than six minutes after trailing by 17, Xavier tied the game. Getting over the hump is always the next big step, and it took the Musketeers less than a minute to grab the lead. That was the first time Xavier led, after a Sumner three with 13:17 to play, they never trailed or were even tied. It was a turnaround of immense proportions. The Musketeers buried the game with a 42-16 run that called to mind some of the great comebacks in team history.
Part of that was down to Xavier's defense. In the first half Wake whipped the ball around the perimeter and went 5-11 from deep. In the second half, they became yet another team to appear flummoxed by the arrival of the 1-3-1 and went 2-14 from deep. Wake went for 43 in the first half and only 27 in the second. As bad as Xavier was early in the game, Wake was worse when it counted. Add another notch to the bag, because this was a zipping up. Wake shot 20.69% in the second half and ended the game with 17 turnovers. Xavier's defense was a different thing in the second half. Gone was the team that played the first half, back was the sixth ranked team in the nation.
James Farr (12/9/0) also deserves mention for the second half resurgence. Jalen Reynolds (4/2/0) played 13 minutes because of foul trouble and James needed to step up. He did that, expertly avoiding his fifth foul and racking up 26 minutes of game time. He scored a huge back to the basket bucket late in the game to quell Wake's final run. Big Game James once again lived up to his moniker. Myles Davis (9/5/3) didn't score in the first half after nearly being brained on the game's first play but also came up big when Xavier needed it. Really, the Musketeers as a whole followed that script. Absent in the first half, they roared to life when they had to. 12-0.
- Will Xavier run the table? Yes. This was a cheater question that was sure to answer itself, but Xavier is now 12-0 for the first time in team history and went undefeated in the non-conference portion of the schedule.
- Is Sean O'Mara coming into his own? This wasn't a great game for the somewhat more earth bound Xavier big. He played eight minutes and went for 2/2/0. It was a big bucket that he got to pull Xavier level for the first time, but the Big Sean revolution will have to wait at least nine more days.
- Are free throws the way to beat Xavier? We've said before that we desire to be real basketball analysis, not your drunk uncle screaming at the officials. And, honestly, we try, we really do. The officiating tonight was a diaper fire, though. This bumbling, clueless, foolishness has got to be squelched out. Witthout oversight, college refs will continue to be as dreadful as the ones tonight were. Just seconds after Myles Davis took a vicious elbow to the head, Remy Abell was called for a foul while desperately trying to backpedal away from a driving Deacon. Not long after that, Remy grabbed a board and ran the other way, only to be stopped when the official called a foul on a legitimately confused Wake player.
Right, the free throws. This was as close as Xavier has come to losing this year, and Wake Forest went 23-27 from the line. A team that made more than six second half field goals could have won with a performance like that from the line.