What happened: Xavier 78 - Wake Forest 70
Wake Forest couldn't have asked for a better first half, or for Xavier to have a worse one. The Musketeers shot 10-34/2-10/6-8 and turned the ball over 9 times as a team. Meanwhile Wake shot the lights out (including a perfect 10-10 from the line), had 8 steals, fought even on the glass, and led 43-28 at the break. That was basically the high-water mark for the Demon Deacons.
Teams that trailed by 18 at any point in the game don't often come back and win, but when they do, it's because they tightened the screws on defense. Xavier did just that in the second half, holding Wake to 6-29/2-14/13-17 shooting and forcing 10 turnovers. The defensive lockdown came with an offensive awakening, as Xavier finally decided to play like the #6 team in the country in shooting 16-27/4-11/14-20, grabbing offensive rebounds on 6 of their 13 misses that warranted one, and tightening ball security just enough to leave Winston-Salem with the win.
If Cincinnati wasn't Edmond Sumner's unveiling to the NCAA basketball world, surely tonight was. He led Xavier in scoring and rebounding with a 21/9/2 line on 6-13/2-6/7-10 shooting and threw in a couple of signature moments to cap the whole experience off. The first was eerily reminiscent of his dunk over Octavius Ellis, running through the lane with a head of steam to finish hard while Xavier was shrinking the deficit. The other would have been a moment of regrettable hubris had it not worked. Isolated in the right corner, he crossed his man, hit him with a left-hand snake dribble, then took a big step back to make space and burying a fallaway three. It was borderline unguardable, and it gave Xavier a lead they would never relinquish.
In lockstep with Sumner in the second half was Trevon Bluiett. After shooting 1-8 and scoring just 3 points in the first half, he went 5-10/2-4/2-2 in the second half on his way to a handsome 17/9/1 game line. His shooting numbers on the night weren't great as a whole, but he game out of the half blistering hot to breathe life into a Xavier rally that turned the game on its head. Despite a pretty rugged opening 20 minutes, Tre answered the bell when his team needed him to.
Speaking of bells, Myles got his rung in the game's first minute, taking an inadvertent elbow to the noggin on a layup attempt. The contact was clearly incidental, but it was also clearly a violation of basketball's rules and should have been called as such. Complaining about the officiating is generally poor form, but it should be noted that both fanbases were unimpressed with this game's crew, as well they should have been. This was another in a string of games that could serve as case studies for why college officiating needs some greater oversight. Meanwhile, Myles emerged from the locker room and had a fairly quiet shooting night, but he was nails from the line down the stretch, didn't turn the ball over, and posted a 9/5/3 line. Coach Mack called him a closer in the postgame radio interview; if Tu Holloway was Mariano Rivera, Myles Davis is growing into Trevor Hoffman.
With Jalen struggling through foul trouble (again) and only available for 13 minutes, Big Game James stepped up and gave the team everything he had in the middle. No stranger to the whistle himself, he lobbied with Coach Mack to go back in after picking up his fourth and played 10 of the game's final 11 minutes without picking up his fifth. That in and of itself might have been the most impressive thing he did, but his 12/9/0 game line with 0 turnovers on 5-8/0-1(why, James?)/2-4 was pretty doggone vital as well.
All told, this was not a good game for Xavier. An offense that usually protects and shares the ball well had 17 turnovers in 77 possessions (22.1% TO%) and only assisted 9 of 26 made buckets (34.6% assist rate). A team that had taken a step forward in shooting at all three levels took a step back. Rebounding percentages at both ends of the floor were down. Xavier got nothing from Jalen, and Remy's contributions were blunted by 5 turnovers.
This is a game that the computers are going to see as a reason to ding Xavier in a couple of places, and rightly so. To the more carnal observer, however, it looked an awful lot like a team that hadn't faced any adversity on the court all year adjusting on the fly and answering another question about whether or not this could be a distinctly special season.
-"Wow! I watched on delay. What a game! Came out and smoked them in the second half. Sumner was huge!"
-"[Ed] was something. That flush was hugebig, bigger than just huge. What a satisfying win; Wake thought they had it."
-"That was fun to watch. I was never worried; you know me, Mr. Positive."
-"On another note, shame to see UC lose again. Classic chokers."