Part of the issue with actually writing about games and trying to convey information is that sometimes you can't just react emotionally. Last night's game demanded an emotional reaction. I got home after church and had the game fired up by around 9:45. By that time, most Xavier fans were well into their celebrations, Coach Mack was doing postgame, and the Cintas was probably still reverberating. I was just sitting down, and I was full of nerves. Unwilling to risk accidentally knowing anything, I'd even turned my phone off at tip time. For someone of this generation, the thought of four hours without connectivity was almost as nerve-wracking as the game.
The first thing that exploded off the screen was just how loud the Cintas was. I've been there for a lot of games. For Big East matchups and for wins over NKU, for Tu Holloway's senior day and for games back when Keith Jackson seemed like the answer, but I've never seen the place look anything like that. "Rocking" seems hardly the verb to describe the feeling. The record crowd was up and being counted early, and the team absolutely responded.
A lot of the credit for that goes to Xavier's two headed point guard. Edmond Sumner was a live wire going for 16/6/9 and moving at a speed usually reserved for track sprinters. Nova had absolutely no one who could stay with a 6-6 guard who handles the ball like a stretched out Allen Iverson. Nova also had no answer for Myles Davis. The cliche says that he does whatever his team needs, and he lived up to it last night. Many times he could be seen taking the ball and holding out a calming hand, imploring his teammates to stay withing themselves and not get carried away in the moment. He also drained four three pointers, proving that cliches that would underrate him aren't 100% accurate; the guy can flat out ball.
Anytime things get significantly emotional for Xavier you can count on Jalen Reynolds being at the center of it. Last night was no exception as Jalen clearly relished slamming his body into Ochefu and daring Nova's big man to come back at him on the other end. With his counterpart James Farr also raking in four offensive boards, Reynolds led Xavier's interior domination of a Villanova team that just couldn't match up physically. Jalen dunked everything like he was determined to rip down a stanchion, he flexed, he roared, he danced, and he went 3-4 from the line. It was almost everything Xavier fans want out of the big man from Detroit.
In the first half though, it was just going to be noise that carried Xavier. Coach Mack knew he needed horses down the stretch, so he turned to LAJ early. Yes, the Inexplicable Turnover was there, but Xavier's backup point guard was phenomenal on the big stage. He ran the team, didn't get carried away, and played stifling man to man defense. Ken Pomeroy doesn't even rate LAJ's contribution enough to award him an offensive rating, but the little man with the great hair showed how he's grown into a vital part of this team. Sumner doesn't take over (and he did) in the second half without LAJ carrying some of the load early.
At some point in the second half, it became clear that Xavier was going to win this game, and do it in some style. Villanova flattered to deceive late, but this was nearly a Xavier runaway. It's hard to process that, even today. Xavier isn't the underdog anymore, they aren't the Cinderella story. Xavier is the team that just comprehensively beat the best team in the nation and did it at a trot near the end. As someone who has been a fan of Xavier for all of my 33 years, it's a bit difficult to process that. Every year after Xavier's final game those of us on staff here share a phone call. Sometimes it's at 4pm on a conference tournament Thursday, sometimes it's late at night while UCLA dons Final Four hats. Now, for the very first time, Xavier fans can think that postseason phone calls may not happen until One Shining Moment fades away.