In a season unlike any we have seen before in Xavier basketball history, the chances are now available to a group of young men who appear to be having a blast playing together to take this program places it has never been before. There are obviously obstacles to overcome on the way there, injuries like the one from which Edmond Sumner is just now returning among them, but on today's evidence, there is reason to believe that this group will become the first ever Xavier team to be ranked in the top 5 and may have what it takes to break some barriers in March as well. Marquette is not the hardest opposition Xavier will face this season, but the manner in which they took care of the Golden Eagles is impressive none the less.
Marquette is a young team, ranked 344th in the nation in experience, with a second year coach and very few eye-catching wins under their belts. They took down LSU on a neutral court and scraped out a win at Providence, but the formula seemed to be not to let them hang around and stay in the game, given their youth. It was disturbing, then, to see them quickly grab the momentum in front of their own crowd and, having witnessed the debacle it took to win at St. John's, Xavier fans could be forgiven for a sense of foreboding. In the first five minutes, Marquette used a 10-0 run to grab an eight point cushion and take control of the early going without scoring a field goal from outside the paint. By the time Henry Ellenson drained the first three pointer of the ball game, it was to give Marquette a nine point lead, which would be their high water mark for the afternoon. The two teams would trade baskets briefly and Duane Wilson would force Xavier out of their man-to-man defense with a three to make the score 18-11 with 12:14 to go in the first half in what would prove to be the decisive moment of the game.
Xavier has ridden a pair of factors to their unprecedented success this season. First has been their ability to interrupt the flow of their opponents offense by employing man-to-man or 1-3-1 zone defenses with whatever personnel is on the court at any time. Second has been their ability to create and convert second chances, which can often serve as a catalyst for James Farr and Jalen Reynolds to exhibit their skills in the post and take the scoring load off the perimeter players. Today, both came together seamlessly and the young and clearly talented Marquette squad on the court had not idea how to handle it.
Xavier's run started innocuously enough, with Trevon Bluiett scoring his first points of the game. However, after he had made it a 4-0 personal run, James Farr got a tip in to cut the lead to one. Over the next five minutes, Marquette would be flummoxed by Xavier's 1-3-1 zone as the Musketeers took the game over through an incredible display by Farr against Marquette's pair of 6'11" posts in Herny Ellenson and Luke Fischer. He would score in and out of the lane, showing the range of offensive moves honed by four years of hard work at this level. By the time the dust settled and Larry Austin capped the run with a layup, Xavier had taken command of the game on a 21-0 spurt, during which Farr had ten points and Trevon Bluiett added seven of his own. While the defense fueled the run, Xavier's Senior center and their leading scorer had given Marquette more than they could handle at the other end, as well.
Marquette was not in the quitting mood today, however, and would come right back to try and find a lifeline before the half. They would succeed in cutting the lead in half with two minutes to play, but Farr would add four out of a quick 5-0 run before a tip in for Wally Ellenson at halftime made it a ten point lead for Xavier. Xavier had dealt Marquette a hammer blow, but the Golden Eagles were showing that they weren't going away any time soon.
Marquette's first attempt to get back into the game in the second half was met much like the one at the end of the first. They put together a few good possessions and chopped it down to seven before a 7-0 run from Bluiett and JP Macura stretched it back out to fourteen. The depth of Xavier's bench kept Marquette from being able to wear them down during the second half, and for much of the frame the Muskies were extending their lead from the ten it had been at halftime. Xavier would stretch it to as many as sixteen in the second half at the eleven minute mark, but that would prove short lived as Marquette would begin clawing their way back into it from there.
Just inside seven minutes left, they had it down to single digits for the first time in over ten game minutes. A minute later, Myles Davis redeemed an otherwise uncharacteristically bad shooting performance with a big three pointer to keep Marquette at bay. Again with 4:41 on the clock Marquette would cut it to nine through a Luke Fischer jumper. Again Davis would hit a big three to keep Xavier's lead at double digits. Marquette would come back with a Traci Carter three cutting it to nine before Edmond Sumner would nail a couple of clutch free throws on the next Xavier possession. Time was running out as Marquette cut the lead to seven points, the smallest it had been in the second half, with the clock at 0:39. Xavier would get the ball to Trevon Bluiett to sink a couple of free throws and Jalen Reynolds would ice with a dunk. JuJuan Johnson's three was mere consolation for a Marquette team who had refused to go away, but had simply been outlasted by a deeper team on their own court.