Some games hinge in moments that, although they only alter the scoreboard slightly, they change the course and complexion of the game completely. Tu's three point play in OT in the Shootout, Myles nailing that other three against Georgetown, Dee's nails three pointer in the Shootout, BJ Raymond making the original that three against WVU, Ed dunking the ball and all of Octavius Ellis's hopes and dreams in the Shootout, etc. Today was another one of those games for Xavier, only one that will hang in the memory as one of the hardest of recent years for X fans. It is inevitable to become attached to the players and teams you root for, that is what makes it so much fun to root for them. My favorite X player ever was Stanley Burrell and when he walked off the court for the final time with tears rolling down his face, I sat in a college dorm room on my top bunk with tears rolling down my face. Xavier fandom goes beyond the simple business of results, wins and losses, made shots and rebounds, and all statistical analysis in the world, to a very visceral point where we want Xavier to win because we have come to care about them. Not because we want cool merch when they finally do cut some nets down, but because we like these players and want to see them succeed. Today, the game hinged on a moment where a Xavier player, one of our guys that we care about and want to see do well, faced questions and issues that we rarely face when watching basketball.
With Xavier down 4-3 2:21 into the game, Edmond Sumner attacked from the right wing on a fast break, was fouled by a ground bound Phil Booth trying to strip the ball, and collided with Kris Jenkins mid-air before getting tangled up with Jenkins on the way to the ground, ultimately landing with the full force of Jenkins coming down on Sumner's head and neck. The dynamo point guard simply stopped moving, laying on the ground where he had landed until trainers and other medical personnel gathered around him. Chris Mack joined the trainers and medical staff around Sumner's form as they assessed the damage, and was joined by Sumner's understandably distraught teammates. Some cried, some prayed, the crowd respectfully clapped, and Sumner was back boarded and take to a nearby hospital for assessment. Then, the game went on.
Jalen Reynolds would put Xavier up 5-4, but a combination of Xavier's divided focus and Villanova's clinical ball movement and shooting meant that by the time James Farr made Xavier's second field goal of the game at the 12:35 mark, it was on the heels of a 19-3 run by the defending Big East Champs. Villanova came out shooting red hot and led by as many as 20 in the first half, as Xavier struggled to cope with the Wildcats on the perimeter early on and in the paint towards the end of the half. Xavier would also turn the ball over 12 times in the first half, matching their season average for a game, lending more gravity to Sumner's absence. In the end, the first half ended with a slight glimmer of hope, but a mountain to climb for the Musketeers.
The only thing Xavier could really hang their hat on after a disaster of a first half was that they had held Villanova's leading scorer Josh Hart scoreless in the opening frame. That proved a short lived comfort as Hart took 3:28 to go on a 13-4 run by himself and extinguish whatever fading hope Xavier held at half time. Xavier simply could not match Villanova's runs with their own, never scoring more than 5 points without an immediate answer. A team that had answered every bell in non conference play simply didn't have it in them today. Whether it was the injury, a lack of focus because of the ranking, a failure to adapt to Villanova's game plan, or just not being as good as the Wildcats can be debated. For now, though, the thoughts of Xavier fans will focus on Edmond Sumner's health and recovery.
-Does Xavier want to run? Just one of the multitude of things that didn't go Xavier's way was the pace of this game, which was played right at Villanova's average pace of 67 possessions. Xavier didn't get the ball in transition all that much because Nova kept making their shots, which is really where a lot of our problems today can be traced to.
-Will Nova be hitting? Yes.
-How do the bigs line up? Reynolds and Farr didn't really struggle with fouls today, but saw limited run alongside each other because of the early margin Xavier faced. Farr did end up with 15 and 7 while Reynolds was less effective, but a closer game may have lent itself to more of them playing together.