There was a point last night where Xavier, after having pulled to a ten point lead, had let the Redhawks of Miami back within four points. For Xavier fans, it was a familiar scene. The team had begun to pull away in the game only for stuttering offense and shambolic defense to let an opponent back in the game. This time, though, the script changed.
Against IUPUI and Evansville, two ultimate buy games, Xavier had thrown away huge first half leads en route to winning close games. That, combined with three straight losses, had given Musketeers fans plenty of reason for doubt. Against Illinois came signs of life as Xavier led at the half over a top 100 team and slowly eased away the rest of the way. What remained was for the Musketeers to put together the kind of game that the home crowd expects to see against a MAC level squad.
Last night, Xavier did that. After the Redhawks drew within four, the Musketeers went on a 13-0 run that should have put the game beyond all reasonable doubt. In that stretch, Miami was 0-6 from the floor and turned the ball over three times as Xavier tightened down the defense. This time, Xavier didn’t let up. In the second half, Miami shot 30% and turned the ball over another seven times. The Redhawks joined the three point parade against Xavier, but of the 29 they got off, only seven went. For one night, at least, Xavier’s biggest issue didn’t bite them.
All of this, combined with an offense with an offense that has somewhat sneakily risen to 23rd in the nation in efficiency, led to a complete rout. The Musketeers didn’t come off the throttle until the time that common decency dictated they do so. There weren’t a bevy of confounding turnovers, indeed there were only three in total. The Redhawks got on the offensive glass well, they generally do, but they only garnered .94 points per offensive rebound, an indication that Xavier contested second shots and didn’t collapse on defense after the initial shot.
All of this lends an air of optimism to the Xavier season going forward. Finally, the team played a complete game befitting a Big East squad. Next up come Oakland and Ohio, both thoroughly mediocre teams, and both at home. After that comes the Crosstown Shootout against a battle tested UC team that has played both North Carolina Central and a powerhouse Arkansas Pine Bluff squad. Out from the gloom of a week ago, there’s now reason for Musketeers fans to start building some excitement rolling forward.