Having punched with and lost to a couple of good teams in Maui, Xavier had a chance to take something from the trip in the seventh-place game against Illinois. They did just that, taking down the Illini with an 83-74 win.
It started with defense for Xavier, where they got stops on 7 of Illinios’ first 8 possessions to establish an 8-3 lead in the early going. As has been the case for the young season so far, though, the consistency wasn’t there. X gave up scores on 9 of 11 possessions after that initial burst, then got 7 straight stops, then gave up 20 points in 12 possessions to end the half.
Part of the defensive struggles began on the offensive end for X, as they turned the ball over 11 times against the Illinois press. Run outs are hard to stop, and the dudes in white were getting plenty of those when X coughed the ball up. The Muskies had executed well on offense but found themselves up just 43-41 at the half.
The Muskies briefly coughed up the lead in the second half, but ultimately they made their advantage inside tell. They crushed the glass all night, posting DReb%/OReb% of .794/.357. Ty Jones and Zach Hankins combined to go 8-9 from the floor. Just as importantly, they got consistent touches that put the undersized Illinois defense into rotation, leading to good looks from the outside for...
Your friend and mine, Elias Harden! Easy Money Eli got onto the plane sporting a 1-5 mark from behind the arc. Something about the Hawai’i air pleased him though, and he cashed out on 7 of his 9 attempts from deep in the tournament. If he has shaken off his year plus slumber to turn into a legit weapon, that’s a huge development for X.
The Muskies were up a dozen with 10 minutes left and - as Travis Steele pointed out in the post-game presser - managed the game well from there. They put together a total of 12 possessions in the 9 minutes before Illinois started fouling, nicely taking the air out of a game that needed taken across the line. It wasn’t always art, but it was a mature performance from a team that desperately needed to take something home from Maui.
Our tweet of the night goes to my large son Quentin Goodin:
Win or Loss, people going to complain. Proud of this team, we got better.— Quentin Goodin (@quentingoodin) November 22, 2018
This is not a perimeter-based team
Xavier shot 23-34 from inside the arc against Illinois, who was completely overmatched in the middle. When Xavier committed to getting the ball into the paint, shooters (I see you, Elias Harden) were able to walk into rhythm jumpers on the arc, which is really much easier work. The Muskies were 8-20 from deep; you can say they were 4-16 without Eli’s 4-4, but they were also 7-14 without Q’s 1-6. When these guys don’t insist on dribbling into jump shots, they can really fill it up.
Ball security is going to be a thing
Naji had 5 turnovers last night and Q added another 4. Naj’s TO rate is now 27.1% (which is bad) and Q’s, after not turning the ball over in his first two games, is creeping up to 16.1%. This team has to lean into its strengths on the offensive end, but nothing of substance is going to come if its two primary ball handlers keep passing to the other team.
Tyrique is a dog
He had a virtuoso performance in the second half, seemingly gobbling up everything that came off the rim on the offensive end. Nothing kills off a game like offensive rebounding, and Ty was able to recycle play on a couple of big occasions for Xavier. With Illinois lingering on the periphery of getting back into the game, he went way up on the defensive end to pin an Ayo Dosunmu layup attempt to the glass with both hands. With Ty and Zach Hankins on the roster, Xavier won’t run into a lot of teams with a meaner front line.