Xavier came into their trip to Marquette having split their last four games, beating Georgetown and Providence, while managing to lose to Seton Hall and Creighton. Marquette was another one of those winnable games that have just been slipping away from X lately, but the absence of Matt Carlino would greatly aid the Muskies hopes of a second Big East road win.
Of course, early on it looked for all the world like Marquette didn't need Carlino as they rode their defensive intensity and early dominance in the paint to a 16-5 lead after 8 minutes. Luke Fischer and Juan Anderson simply waltzed their way to 12 points on 6-8 shooting. Xavier once again came out flat on the road and were struggling to get anything going on offense as Marquette's variety of defensive looks once again baffled them. Turnovers, bad looks, and missed shots led Xavier into an early hole, the likes of which they typically struggle to get out of on the road. However, after looking like world beaters for 8 minutes, Marquette would begin to go through a drought on offense, partially fueled by their own inability to deal with Xavier's 1-3-1 look, and the door opened for X to get back into the game almost as quickly as Marquette had tried to take them out of it.
JP Macura has had his share of forgettable nights this season, being a freshman in a big conference on a deep team will do that to you, but when Xavier is running their 1-3-1 look, Macura excels at selling out in the passing lanes and providing defensive pressure. Tonight, he also brought his offensive spark and his three pointer at the 12 minute mark of the first half marked the beginning of Xavier's turnaround. Next, he would deflect a pass to Jalen Reynolds and in the span of about 20 seconds Marquette's lead began to evaporate. Remy Abell broke nearly 3 minutes of no one scoring with his only three of the night, and his free throw on the next possession brought X back within 2. A three point play by JaJuan Johnson pushed the lead back to 5, but that is as far as it would get as Trevon Bluiett buried a jumper before Macura brought things even with a three. In the six and a half minutes from Macura's first three to his second, Xavier went on a 14-3 run and, in the process, made everyone in the building believe they were going to win the game.
With a team as balanced as Xavier, oftentimes players can switch on and off of being the main option on offense, but once Xavier got level, it became obvious their focus was going to be the paint for the remainder of the first half. A free throw line jumper from Myles Davis gave the Muskies their first lead of the game before Matt Stainbrook and Dee Davis would go to the paint for Xavier's next 7 points, which was the extent of their scoring before halftime. Only three pointers from Duane Wilson and Juan Anderson would briefly snap Marquette out of their offensive fog, but the three point lead of 28-25 belied the amount of momentum possessed by the visiting team at the break. Xavier had taken the Golden Eagles' best shot and then come back and floored Marquette with one of their own.
Before three minutes had gone in the second half, Xavier had effective ended the game as a contest. A face up jumper from Trevon Bluiett was followed by a lay up and a pair of technical free throws by Myles Davis before Stainbrook found Bluiett again for another two and the lead was suddenly 11. Twice Marquette would bring it back within single digits, but JP Macura's three with 12:12 left pushed the lead out to 14 and signaled that Xavier wasn't going to let up this time.
With Xavier's defense forcing Marquette into a dreadful 28% from the floor in the second half, it was simply too much to ask a Carlino-less squad to try and gun their way back into this one. The closest it got was with 4:49 left when Duane Wilson hit a three to cut Xavier's lead to 12. X would go 8-10 from the line their next 5 trips down the court, officially ending any hopes Marquette harbored of mounting a run back into the game. Only Jalen Reynolds' customary technical could take any of the shine off of this one for the Musketeers, as they went on the road and did the things a good team does, forcing their opponents into bad shots on defense, and knocking down their looks on offense. A 40% line from behind the arc will do Mack's team some good as well as 21-1 bench scoring margin. In the end, this was a winnable game for Xavier and, for once, they just went out and won it.
-Can Xavier come ready to play on the road? Not initially, no. The noise level and intensity of Marquette's defense took an adjustment period, but Xavier stuck with it and put on a 23-9 run to end the first half, atoning for their slow start.
- Is the 1-3-1 here to stay? Xavier started in man, but showed zone pretty frequently throughout the game. Marquette isn't really a good barometer of if your zone defense is working because they are such a bad shooting team, but Xavier did show willingness to ride the zone for longer stretches than it had before.
- Can Xavier knock down threes? Yes. 6-15 is a pretty good mark from long range, and both JP and Trevon had multiple makes. Sleeveless Myles Davis went 0-4, but I am assuming once he gets his sleeves back on, he will be back in business.
You can look forward to more coverage of this one later with Joel's Boxscore Breakdown before we delve into some KenPom bracketology in the afternoon, so be sure to stop back by.