Coming into tonight, Xavier had won 6 in a row and re-established the momentum they had lost in their last road trip to a ranked opponent. After this game, the next two look even more daunting, not to mention vital, and questions abound about this team's ability to hang tough on te road against a focused and determined opponent.
Things began promisingly, with Xavier coming out of the gate firing on offense. Villanova was out of sync offensively to start and Xavier amassed a lead. The high water mark would come with 7:25 left, when Xavier would lead by 8 after a pair of Trevon Bluiett free throws. Already the momentum was waning, with the last field goal having come almost 4 minutes before and Xavier struggling to solve the Wildcat defense. From that point on in the first half, Xavier would score one field goal as Nova ended the frame on an 18-4 run over the final 6:30. The empty trips would pile up for X as the reigning National Champions found their stride and grabbed a 6 point cushion to carry into the break. There was still a glimmer of hope, but the Musketeers would have to right the ship quickly, because it was clear Villanova smelled blood.
The second half started well again for Xavier, although not as well as the first, with Sumner, Macura, and O'Mara carrying the scoring load with Bluiett quieter than normal. When Big Sean scored with 11:46 left, it cut the lead to a managable 10 and Xavier, despite a miserable shooting night, still seemingly had a shot. However, like most Xavier shots tonight, it didn't work out and within 5 minutes, the lead had doubled and Villanova was on their way to another victory over Xavier at The Pavilion.
The story as to why Xavier lost is not the same tale as from the Baylor and Colorado losses. Xavier turned the ball over 14 times and was outscored 17-13 off turnovers, both surmoumtable numbers. X shot 14-17 from the line, which comes out to 82%, a good mark on free throws. Xavier got back 28% of their misses, a bit below their season average, but only let Nova get back 12% of theirs, decisively winning the battle on the boards. The benches tied with 13 points apiece, and X held the edge in second chance pointd by 12. All that being said, Xavier lost because they simply did mot make shots tonight. They were not soundly defeated in the hustle categories, they did not make a preponderance of unforced errors, and they did not fail to compete. What they did do was shoot 29% from the floor, going 11-26 from two and shooting 18% from three. No matter how advanced basketball metrics and stats become, and no matter advanced your understanding of the game may be one thing still holds sway: the ball has to go through the hoop, or you will not win.