A common fear after a big win or a series of wins in which a team plays exceptionally well is that it could lead to a let down. Coming off throttling three potential NCAA tournament programs at the Advocare Invitational, Xavier avoided doing just that by hammering a clearly over-matched Western Kentucky squad in basically every aspect of the game. On the heels of a meteoric rise up the polls, Xavier finally looked the part of a top 15 team against a pedestrian opponent tonight in a game that was only briefly a contest.
The opening exchanges showcased Xavier's identity thus far this season, with the Musketeers jumping out to an 8-4 lead by the first media timeout on 2-2 free throw shooting and 4 second chance points. Western had very little answer for James Farr and Jalen Reynolds down low, as the pair combined for 30 points and 6 offensive rebounds in just 34 minutes of playing time. Xavier's toughness in the post has been a trademark this season with Farr and Reynolds leading the way, and it was on display early on tonight.
WKU's only hope was to rely on their prolific three point shooting prowess and hope Xavier had an off night from outside, which was displayed when Nigel Snipes and Chris Harrison-Docks both hit from deep during the mid part of the first half, but Xavier's dominance down low and Trevon Bluiett's answer had the Muskies pulling away by a score of 17-12 the next time TV rules arbitrarily dictated the game stop. We probably should get some quarter breaks in there too... really anything to break up the monotony of actually watching basketball more. In a theme that would carry the night for the Musketeers, Farr and Bluiett led the way with 6 and 5 respectively.
When Xavier's bigs are getting the job done like they were tonight, chances are going to be good for things to open up a bit for the perimeter players to make it happen as well. With Bluiett already hitting WKU was facing an uphill battle, but when Myles Davis canned a three with 10 minutes left in the first half, it was essentially game over for the Hilltoppers. Xavier is the type of team that can pile up points in a hurry this season, and with the misses piling up on offense and Xavier bringing (some of) their big guns to bear, Western was quickly getting buried in a way Xavier hadn't been doing before the holiday tournament. Even a WKU timeout couldn't stem the flow as Xavier took control with a 15-5 run, touched off by the Davis three.
Even with a 15 point lead, strange things can happen, and Western was going to try and keep Xavier withing striking distance going into the locker room for halftime. 5 points from Aaron Cosby helped WKU do just that as James Farr hit 4-4 from the line in the final minute of the first half to keep Xavier's lead at 14 at the break with Farr having 8 points and Bluiett with 13. Still, even with a lot having gone right in the first half, Xavier needed to focus and finish off a weaker opponent at home, something which had eluded them thus far this season.
It looked like a rehash of so many of Xavier's early wins this season early in the second half, with Western Kentucky cutting the lead to 10 almost instantly, before Jalen Reynolds rallied Xavier with 4 points of his own in quick succession. While Reynolds would again struggle with foul trouble, Farr continued to have his way down low, but Xavier struggled to add to their lead, leading by 16 at the under-12 timeout in the second half. A run either way could either make the game very interesting or the blowout one might expect from this matchup.
With 9:36 left, it looked like Aaron Cosby may have had Western on the road to an interesting finale when he nailed a three to cut the lead back to 14, but Xavier would need just 3:29 to kill the game with a 15-2 run, once again sparked by a Myles Davis three. WKU had fought the good fight for the first 10 minutes of the half, but Jalen Reynolds dunk at the 6 minute mark removed all doubt as to the outcome in this one as Xavier once again showed their versatility in piling up points at a ridiculous rate to put a game out of reach.
-Can Coach Mack motivate the team? Xavier looked the best they have against a sub-100 opponent this season, indicating that the purging of the thanksgiving demons might be the turning point where this team finally got it all clicking. Farr and Bluiett in particular were getting after boards and Myles continues to be a good vocal leader on the floor.
- Will JP get involved early? JP didn't shoot in the first half but showed his knack for impacting the game without scoring by picking up 5 assists and 4 boards. There are a lot of guys on this team who can and will shoot, so it is nice to see JP's skillset develop into other areas.
- What can be gained from this game? Well, Xavier has shaken off the rust of a 5 day layoff between games, but beyond that they just held the 7th best three point shooting team in the nation to 22% (5-22) and assisted 21 of 32 made baskets on the offensive end tonight. It was a night to remember for James Farr and Trevon Bluiett as well as Farr's 18 was a new career high and Bluiett's 21 matched his career high and went with 10 boards for a double-double.