I like to think of myself as a pretty good writer, but I don't even know where to begin with this game. Horrendous officiating, 20 turnovers, tentative offense, and substitution patterns that didn't seem to make a lot of sense all played a part in Xavier coming up the very smallest of margins short. A win in this game that would have gone a long way in solidifying their standing in the NCAA field. Instead, Xavier probably still needs to find two more wins to be completely comfortable come Sunday the 15th, and it's because of a miasma of reasons.
To that end, if you think horrendous officiating cost Xavier this game, flip to paragraph A. If you think turning the ball over 20 times in a game is what did it, you'll enjoy paragraph B. If you think playing timid in the first half cost the Musketeers the game, flip to paragraph C. And if you think this was the coach's fault, paragraph D is the one for you. Have fun choosing your very own Xavier Loses Another Close One adventure!
Paragraph A: It's the ref's fault!
Well, you've peaked behind the door and seen the trusted trope of couch bound analysts worldwide. Well, it's hard to argue with them this time. The officiating in the Big East and, really, around college basketball this season has made subpar seem like a lofty goal. Last night's crew of Roger Ayers, Joe Lindsay, and Doug Shows (all of whom favor the home team by nearly three fouls per game) made somewhere around $2,000 a piece to put on the performance they did. Two nights ago, Ayers was in Virginia doing his 80th game, Lindsay was in Missouri doing his 60th, and Shows was travelling in from Louisiana, where he had just done his 62nd game.
This was back to back to back nights with a game for both Ayers and Lindsay, who had combined to travel 2,126 miles over that time. Add in Shows 1,360 mile jaunt from Baton Rouge, and you get three refs doing eight games over the past three days and traveling 3,486 miles to do so. Small wonder, then, that they were complete and utter garbage tonight. In the first half, violence abounded. The three men charged with preventing that were apparently lost in their thoughts and called a grand total of three fouls and awarded three free throws.
In the second half, the officiating crew showed great mental dexterity in adapting to be the polar opposite kind of embarrassingly horrid. Before four minutes came off the clock, they'd already called more fouls than in the entire first half. Before six minutes had elapsed, the free throw mark from the first half fell as well. The second half went on to see 27 fouls called and 30 free throws shot. If the goal of referees is to be consistent, these guys failed miserably. Actually, it doesn't matter what the goal of referees is, I'm quite certain this crew failed miserably at it. The hacksawing of Remy Abell's (11/7/3) arms after he beat Sir'Dominic Pointer off the dribble at the end of the game just seemed to be the capper, Continue to Paragraph E.
Paragraph B: What if we passed to their team? Or no one?
After Xavier's blistering 13 points in just over five minutes to start the game, they scored seven points the rest of the first half. That's in large part to some truly incredible dedication to turning the ball over. This wasn't new and unusual turnovers, it was pretty much just a steady stream of passes to guys wearing white. Xavier being completely at the other end of the color spectrum from their opponent didn't keep Musketeers from locating St. John's with pass after pass on their way to turning the ball over 15 times in a single half.
On three separate occasions in the first half, Xavier ended three or more straight possessions with a turnover. It got to the point where a missed shot was considered a positive outcome for a possession, because that at least meant someone in black had the ball long enough to consider an errant toss at something other than a St. John's player. Xavier would go on to turn the ball over 20 times in the game. That's 20 possessions in a 65 possession game in which they didn't even have a chance to score points. That's how you end up averaging .88 points per possession and losing. Dee Davis (3/3/4) led the way with five turnovers, but three other Musketeers had three a piece and every player except Larry Austin Jr (2/2/0) got in on the act. Continue to Paragraph E.
Paragraph C: New York is loud and scary!
Frightening things lurk in the shadows, or at least the shaded areas on the court, of Madison Square Garden. These things, which are actually just human beings, one of whom is terrifyingly called "Chris", appeared to cause great fear in many of the Musketeers. After the 13 quick points, Xavier suffered its first blocked shot at the hands of Sir'Dominic Pointer. After that, shots became a barrage of leaners, fadeaways, excuse me's, 15 footers, and generally whatever else didn't entail actually taking the ball up strong in the St. John's defensive end.
Some credit here does go to Obepka and Pointer. They combined to block ten shots and displayed excellent timing and, especially in the case of Obepka, freakish double jump ability. That said, Xavier made things easy by simply refusing to try a reasonable shot around them. It was obvious that just the scepter of the block was looming large throughout the first half. It's unusual to see Jalen Reynolds (9/7/0) look meek, but he did at times in the first half. Matt Stainbrook (6/10/3) deserves credit for taking the ball at the defense, less credit for not employing a deal of guile in doing so. One quick way to make only four shots inside the arc in half and only 13 for a game is to be scared to pound. For a long time, Xavier was. Continue to Paragraph E.
Paragraph D: Coach Mack is clueless, fire the bum!
You're here because you think coaches should be able to make adjustments on the fly, cajoling the best out of their squad every time. Tonight you may point to Xavier pounding the ball inside (or into Red Storm players) fruitlessly for large portions of the first half. Or, you might point out that Xavier was +9 in the five minutes that a very aggressive and active Larry Austin played before being banished back to the bench. Perhaps you think that both Myles Davis (5/3/1) and JP Macura (0/1/0) did very little to merit their 37 and nine minutes, respectively.
Maybe you think that a game this active and rough could have used some Sean O'Mara or a bit more time playing two bigs. It could be that you wanted to see some of the very effective 1-3-1 Xavier has played recently. Or maybe you just wonder how on earth it was that no adjustment had been made since Sir'Dominic Pointer dominated a game nine days ago. No matter which of those it was, you landed her because you know Coach Mack could have done more. Continue to Paragraph E.
Paragraph E: Xavier needs two more wins
This one would have been huge, but it didn't happen. If Xavier beats Villanova at home, they can start making plans to be in the tournament so long as Creighton doesn't trip them up again. A loss to 'Nova and a win against Creighton will require one more win in the Big East tournament to leave everyone feeling comfortable. Your adventure ends here though because, no matter what you chose above, there were four big reasons Xavier left a very valuable win on the court last night in New York.