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With their backs to the wall against Georgetown, Xavier figured out who they are

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Down 17 at home with the season well and truly on life support, Xavier held their nerve and their discipline. The result was Xavier basketball.

NCAA Basketball: Georgetown at Xavier
Approximately half of Xavier’s team tonight.
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

3:49 Josh LeBlanc made Dunk. Assisted by Greg Malinowski. 39 - 22

That’s how the play-by-play read as the darkness closed in around me. To that point, X hadn’t been able to stop a thing Georgetown was doing, and they weren’t getting anything on the other end. This looked for all the world like a team fading out of the campaign.

Then Travis Steele finally struck the right note to wake up his sleepwalking squad:

With no literal drawing board to go back to, X came out of the timeout focused on the basics. The Muskies relentlessly pounded the paint and shot 4-6/0-1/4-4 to rip off 12 points in the final 3:28 of the half.

On defense, Steele switched to a 2-3 zone that confounded the Hoyas, who were 0-5/0-1/0-0 with 2 turnovers as X charged back into the game.

Xavier was 1-8 from deep when Travis Steele’s clipboard died. In the nearly 24 minutes of basketball that ensued, they shot just 5 more threes. Georgetown came into the game surrendering the arc but with a solid interior defense and - in Jesse Govan and Josh LeBlanc - two of the best big men in the conference. Xavier just didn’t care.

Coach Steele started Zach Hankins and Tyrique Jones together for the first time all season, sending the message from the jump that he trusted his double pivot to be the focus of the game. The next 40 minutes - and especially the final 20 - would be vindication for the coach’s confidence, as they combined to shoot 15-23/0-0/12-14 on the way to 42/20/4 with 3 blocks and just 1 turnover. That’s a dominant performance.

There’s still plenty to figure out going forward. Keeping Hankins and Jones on the floor together is going to ask a lot of questions of the perimeter defense. At some point in time, the team will probably have to make a long jump shot, especially as opponents key on the paint.

For one night, though, Xavier saw their strengths and leaned into them. The result may be the blueprint this team follows going forward.