It started so well for Xavier. Keying on stopping Missouri big man Jeremiah Tilmon, X drew a couple of quick fouls that sent him to the bench less than three minutes into the game. Tilmon left with Xavier down 4-3. Leading up to the under-4 media timeout, Xavier led 27-12.
Despite the big lead, there were some signs of cracks in Xavier's defenses. X was playing incredible defense, but offensive execution was miserable. By the time the half concluded, they had double-digit turnovers and had shot 2-12 from behind the arc despite Missouri's best big man riding the bench for the vast bulk of the half. By the time the Tigers closed the half on a 9-1 run, what should have been a walkover had turned into a dog fight.
It got worse from there. Despite having Coach Cuonzo Martin benching Tilmon early in the second half after his third foul, Missouri kept pouring on the pressure. What was once a 15-point Xavier lead had flipped to a 45-40 deficit 20 minutes later.
Down 5 with 4 minutes to play, Xavier scrapped together just enough. First Jason Carter became the first Muskie to recognize the team was on the way to shooting 3-21 from deep and put the ball on the deck, passing up a wide-open jumper to get to the rim and draw a foul. Paul Scruggs followed suit with a nice split of a double to finish.
Missouri kept answering to keep X down three, largely through the incredibly impressive Xavier Pinson. With Xavier needing to find some way to score more than two points in a trip down, Naji Marshall found bottoms from the top of the arc to tie it up. One 26-second stop later, the game was headed to overtime.
Xavier did just enough in OT, getting the lead thanks partly to only shooting a single three and then salting it away with 8-10 from the stripe. This was one of the most sincerely ugly games in recent memory, and the less said about it the better.
Let's say some more about it in the form of takeaways:
Three-point shooting will cripple this team
3-21 from behind the arc. That's unconscionable. Worse yet, a lot of them were open looks as Missouri was content to watch Xavier shoot threes and Xavier was content to oblige by chucking a comical barrage of bricks. To Xavier's credit, some of the veterans made a clear decision to pass up threes and go to the rim. Missou is a good defensive team, but this was mostly about X not shooting well. Teams are going to defend 12 feet and in until Xavier demonstrates they can hit.
A prudent fan could be worried about Q
Q had 7/3/1 on 2-5/0-1/3-4 shooting with 6 turnovers. He hasn't looked settled all year, and tonight was no difference. I just want to see him have a coronation lap of a senior year, but at this point it's a worthwhile question of whether or not he's in the team's best five.
Play your best players
Cuonzo Martin committed coaching malpractice tonight and probably saved the game for Xavier. His best player is probably Jeremiah Tilmon, and Tilmon played 23 of the game's 45 minutes tonight. He had 2 fouls at the 17:15 mark and sat most of the first half. He picked up his 3rd at almost the same point in the second half and was a spectator for much of it. He didn't get his 4th until there was just over a minute left in OT. If the goal is to not foul out, he nailed it, but I would submit that the goal is to get the most time out of your best players. By allowing Tilmon end regulation with just three fouls, Martin left minutes from his best player on the bench in a game that one more point in the first 40 minutes would have turned into a win. The risk in playing him was less than the risk in watching Reed Nikko and Kobe Brown combine for 4 points in 37 minutes as bigs off the bench. Martin played it by the old book rather than demonstrating a little imagination, and it cost his team the win.