With 17:17 left in the first half, Tyrique Jones picked up his second foul. He would sit the remainder of the half. In a game that Ty physically dominated while he was on the court, his absence for more than half the game was probably decisive.
It didn't have to be, though. Xavier scuffled defensively for one of the first times this year, as Wake Forest scored a ton of points and executed well even without star center Olivier Sarr. The Demon Deacons shot .473/.438/.778 as a team. Wake scored 39 points in the first half and 41 in the second half, holding off a furious Xavier charge.
The Muskies couldn't get stops when they needed them. After Dahmir Bishop cut the deficit to 2 with 2:37 left in the half, Xavier surrendered 3 layups and 3 free throws while getting just one stop before halftime. A game that could have been close at the half instead saw the teams separated by nine points. Part of Xavier's issue was that too many three-point attempts led to long rebounds and transition buckets for Wake Forest. The Muskies can win making teams attack their half court defense. Today, their inefficiency from three hamstrung them on both ends of the court.
Some of the team's defensive struggles were no doubt fueled by their foul trouble. With the refs blowing their whistles for fouls 46 times in 40 minutes of play, both teams could have been forgiven for believing good defense would lead to a coin toss chance of getting called for a foul. The whistle probably favored Wake a bit early, but on balance this was more about the ref show than it was home cooking.
The second half was more of the same as Xavier appeared to be crawling back in, only to find it impossible to get over the hump. Quentin Goodin cut it to 1 with 13:37 left, but Wake went on a 13-2 run in less than 4 minutes to push the lead back to 12. From there it was an uphill battle, but Xavier kept fighting it.
Tyrique Jones, who struggled around the rim all night, was able to assert his physical advantage, fouling out first Ody Oguana and then Isaiah Mucius, leaving Wake bereft of true bigs down the stretch. Jones had a miserable day from the field, shooting 2-10, but he was 8-12 from the line and managed 7 offensive boards.
Xavier's perimeter players started to make some headway, too. Naji hit a three to cut it to three before fouling out on a fairly soft call. Back-to-back three by Paul Scruggs cut it to two and then one with just over a minute left. Wake Forest kept executing from the line and Xavier kept answering back until Brandon Childress split a pair of FT with 7 second left to leave X down 2.
Paul Scruggs rushed the ball across half but got doubled. He swung it to Jason Carter, but it was just a bit behind Xavier's big man at the top of the key. Carter recovered and rotated one more to Q from way out on the right wing, but Goodin's last-ditch three fell off and Xavier fell to 9-2.
Much like in their previous loss, Xavier fell behind due to a long offensive dry spell and couldn't claw all the way back in. This time, the defense wasn't able to get the stops X needed while the attack lay dormant, and the rally came up just a hair short.
The bottom line is that this is a disappointing loss, but not a bad one. On the road against a power conference opponent is always going to be tough sledding. Add to that this being Xavier's first road game, the trap of coming off finals and the Shootout, and Wake being a top 100 team, and it doesn't take too many things going wrong to find yourself on the wrong side of the score line.
The things that went wrong were pretty self-evident for X today. In addition to allowing Wake's offensive performance, X shot just 18-27 from the line, and their 6-22 from three - while already awful - was 3-17 before the last 4:12 of the game. X only shot 7 threes in the entire second half; I don't think it's a coincidence that they outplayed Wake during stretches in which they refused to be content hucking long jumpers.
Coach Steele said in the pregame presser that the team would come home from Wake with plenty to work on, no matter the result of the game. His words proved prescient, and now the Muskies have just a couple more non-conference games before the grind of the Big East season is upon us.