For about 11 minutes last night that game was fun to watch. At that point Xavier was up 15 and looked to be well on their way to rolling over the worst team in the Big East. Instead, Xavier stopped shooting the ball well, stopped rebounding at all, and generally just abandoned all the precepts that have brought them their early season success. Thankfully, St. John's was the opponent and they are one of the most inept teams in the nation right now. Ultimately, the Musketeers advanced to 14-1 and were thankful to get back to Cincinnati (at least until practice today).
That hideous game was filled with talking points though, and there's plenty of time to talk about them. The Mussini technical, Jalen sitting out the first ten minutes, Larry Austin playing well, and Chris Mullin being utterly confused by what was happening around him all stood out last night.
1. That technical foul
First off, let's have a look at the circumstances around Federico Mussini receiving a momentum shifting technical foul. The Johnnies had just drawn within one with 2:05 to play on the back of a Mussini three and a 13-5 run. On Xavier's next possession, Myles missed a three and Trevon Bluiett pulled in the offensive rebound and got fouled by Durand Johnson. Mussini had the ball and was facing the other way and saw fit to slam the ball down and let it sail into the air. These are the facts of the case, and they are undisputed.
Mussini was given a technical foul, though it wasn't immediately clear if it was on him or the vehemently arguing Durand Johnson. The rule (10.3.1.1) used to give Mussini the technical reads "A player or substitute committing an unsportsmanlike act including, but not limited to, the following: a. Disrespectfully addressing an official or gesturing in such a manner as to indicate resentment." There is no bright line rule saying that slamming the ball down is a technical, but it is generally (not always) called as one.
At the time the tech occurred Xavier had an 85% chance of winning the game according to Ken Pomeroy's win probability graph. St. John's may have had the momentum, but they were still trailing and they didn't have the ball. That was, however, the highest win probability the Johnnies had all game and there is no arguing they were on a roll. The call gave the Musketeers two free throws, both of which Myles Davis made. That immediately bumped the Musketeers chances of winning back to 95% and ended the game as a contest.
So should the technical have been called? I'd argue that in the context of this game, it shouldn't have. Just watching the play over and over again it's apparent Mussini isn't upset with anyone but himself. The Italian is nowhere near a ref, is facing the other way, and never addresses the officials. How his slamming of the ball violates the rule is beyond me. It's a discretion call though, and discretion apparently always calls for a REFSHOW. Roughly six minutes earlier Jalen Reynolds gathered a dead ball and, as the ref walked over to report a foul, took two dribbles and dunked it. That violates 10.4.1.e "A team member dunking or attempting to dunk a dead ball before or during the game, or during any intermission," a rule that doesn't allow for discretion. Jalen was chided by a referee as the crowd booed and life when on. Six minutes later, the refs couldn't resist a chance to make it about them.
2. Jalen misses ten minutes
For the first time all year, Jalen Reynolds didn't start the game. Then, he didn't play for the first ten minutes. Once he got in he put up a line 10/13/0 on 4-8 from the floor and 2-4 from the line. He managed 22 minutes and only committed three fouls. After the game it came out that Reynolds had been a bit difficult in practice this week. Coach Mack didn't miss the chance to send a message, one can only hope that Jalen receives it. And stops fouling so much.
3. Larry Austin Jr. shines
LAJ attracts more than his fair share of both detractors and defenders as backup point guard at Xavier continues to somehow be the subject of great debate. Last night, Larry was excellent. His offensive efficiency rating for the game was 114, second to only Myles Davis on the game. Larry went for 6/1/1, only turned the ball over once, was perfect from the line, and went 2-4 from the floor. All of that pales compared to the defense that LAJ played. It was a bit confusing, actually, to not see him draw Mussini as he got hot late in the game and started drawing St. John's back.
Larry isn't going to ever light up the scoreboard, but he has major value to this team if he plays like he did last night. There's no question he's blazing fast, and last night that was paired with calm on the ball rather than the frenetic pace that LAJ sometimes tries to play with. So long as he remains level-headed with the ball, Larry's offense won't keep him off the floor. That's good, because last night his defense was excellent. When Larry can harass a ball handler like he did last night and chase shooters off screens effectively, he's a defensive weapon well worth having on the floor.
4. What was Chris Mullin doing?
As the game wound down last night everyone in the gym knew who should be taking shots for the Red Storm. Well, everyone except their coach. Somehow, Federico Mussini didn't attempt a field goal after he brought the game within one. On the next two possessions, St. John's ran him to a corner and ignored him. Not used him as a decoy, just flat out made no attempt to get him the ball. The kid was 5-8 on threes and made three in the last three minutes, but Mullin decided not to call a timeout to run him a play or even just call a set to get his only shooter open.
That wasn't all though. Mullin watched Durand Johnson shoot 0-8 from behind the arc without telling him to stop, he also sat on the scorer's bench in the most intense part of the game and swung his legs like a little kid on a swing, seemingly unconcerned about what was happening in front of him. There was no pacing, no yelling, nothing, just sitting and watching. Mullin didn't adjust to Xavier's 1-3-1 at all, instead having his horrendous shooting team continue to heave and then remarking in the post game that 34% shooting wasn't very good. When his zone troubled Xavier, who also didn't shoot well from deep, he switched out of it. Frankly, Mullin looked clueless for most of the game. The learning curve in college ball is steep, and he's got a long way to go.