Coming off their first home loss of the season, Xavier needed someone to answer the bell underneath the basket where what had been the team's strongest point was turning into an area of concern. For today at least, James Farr put those nerves at ease with one of the most dominant performances by a Xavier big the Cintas Center has ever seen. In doing so, Xavier moved back into a tie for second place in the Big East, and reminded the world that they are competing for a top seed come Selection Sunday.
Things started pretty slowly for X again in this one, with Seton Hall grabbing the early momentum and leading by 5 after 4 minutes. It would take a 10-3 run for Xavier to establish their first lead as the offense that had sputtered against Georgetown took its time to get going today as well.
One early positive sign was the foul trouble of the reigning Big East Freshman of the Year Angel Delgado who, although unlikely to defend that particular title, was a major part of the Seton Hall gameplan with his rebounding abilities at both ends of the court. Xavier already had a deeper group of bigs with whom Seton Hall was sure to have their hands full, but having their best interior scorer and offensive rebounder in foul trouble all afternoon made it a much taller task for the Pirates.
Seton Hall's plan to beat Xavier clearly centered around keeping Farr and Reynolds from beating them in the post, but from the 10 minute mark, when the Pirates led 16-14, to the 7:21 mark, Sophomore Sean O'Mara would give Seton Hall the fits they were expecting out of the pair of more heralded bigs on Xavier's roster. He would get it started by tying the game with a lay in before taking Xavier back in front with a titanic dunk off of a Larry Austin feed.
At the other end he would block a shot and claim the rebound before getting another block to begin a fast break from Myles Davis's timely three pointer to put Xavier back up by 2. He ended the stretch with another board, setting up a pair of James Farr free throws to extend the lead. All in all, it was a passage of play when Reynolds was in foul trouble, Farr needed a breather, and O'Mara stepped in and grabbed the game by the neck when Xavier needed a run.
After Xavier pushed the lead to 6 with 5 minutes left, Desi Rodriguez, who was the only Pirate to display a competent understanding of how to beat a 1-3-1 zone, would fuel a 10-3 run with 8 points of his own to put Seton Hall back up 1 in the span of just 2 and a half minutes.
After another particularly timely three from Myles Davis, Xavier would lead by two with 14 second left when JP Macura would make another scrappy play in a season where that is becoming his defining trait, and free up Edmond Sumner for the highlight reel dunk and a 4 point Xavier lead at half time. It was at times a struggle on the offensive end in the first half, but Farr had 10 points, Delgado had foul trouble, and Xavier had the momentum going into the break, despite 0 points from their leading scorer.
Xavier was the first team to punch out of the break, rattling off 5 points in their first pair of trips down the court through Sumner and Farr, but the first four minute war would belong to Seton Hall, who cut the Musketeers lead all the way to a single point at the 15:57 mark. Over the next minute and a half, little would change as the Pirates refused to go quietly and Farr pour home a couple of baskets to keep them at bay. Xavier was working on surviving the Pirates best shot in the second half, while trying to muster up one of their own to get the Cintas crowd back into the game.
At exactly 14 minutes, Angel Delgado picked up his third foul and headed to the bench. Over the next 5:30, Xavier would use their dominance of the low post through O'Mara and Reynolds, plus 7 points from the lively again Trevon Bluiett to effectively salt the game away, going on a 15-3 run to run their lead out to a game-high 15. Even when Delgado re-entered in the midst of Xavier grabbing the momentum there was little to be done.
The Musketeers turned the screws on defense, leading to turnovers and poor shot selection as during the game's defining stretch, Seton Hall would go away from Rodriguez, who went 10-11 from inside the arc on the day, and Isaiah Whitehead would go 0-3 with 2 turnovers. Xavier, meanwhile, got some of the production they were missing in the first half from Reynolds and Bluiett and took the game over.
Despite not scoring in the game's deciding run, Farr was pivotal for Xavier down the stretch, as his 5-6 from the line helped keep Seton Hall from cutting the lead back to single digits. First a three from Khadeen Carrington cut it to 11 before Farr answered from the line. Next Whitehead would connect from three to cut it to 10 before Edmond Sumner would get a three point play to keep X's lead comfortable at the under-4.
The final response needed was when Carrington cut it back to 10 with a three with 3 minutes remaining. Sumner would drive from the left wing and fire a pass from the middle of the lane to the left block, where Farr was waiting to hit a little jumper and cap off a magnificent performance. Seton Hall would get the last 4 points of the game, but Xavier's depth and unselfishness paid off in the second half, as the ball found the hot hand time and time again and X pulled away for another Big East win.