Ryan Welage could have stayed at San Jose State. With a bevy of records in his sights and another crack at a schedule he had proven he could dominate, it might have been tempting for the skinny kid from Indiana with the face of a choir boy to stick with the easy and comfortable path for his final season of eligibility. Instead, he left a program where he was 1-28 in tier A and B games in his first three seasons and headed to a program trying to pick up the pieces after some of the key parts of the best team in school history had scattered across the globe. Welage took a chance to move closer to home and test himself against one of the toughest basketball conferences in the nation and, just in the nick of time, delivered the type of performance that proved he belonged in amongst basketball royalty of the Big East.
Things started with a bang for Welage, as he carried Xavier out of the gates with a blistering shooting performance against IUPUI on his way to a season high 24 points as he hinted at his ability to pick up the three point shooting slack left by the departures of Trevon Bluiett, JP Macura, and Kaiser Gates. What followed was a decidedly more up and down stretch to round out non conference play as Xavier struggled to establish their identity on offense and Welage frequently found himself lost in the shuffle of players trying to find their best role on a team that was just hoping to gain some traction. He did light up future National Semifinalists Auburn for 17 in Maui, but did not score the rest of the tournament, which served as a microcosm for much of the months of November and December for the young man: sometimes the lethal outlet for Xavier’s driving guards, sometimes the forgotten man trying to find his shot on a sputtering offense.
When Big East play came around, Welage once again was ready to lead the Musketeers into the breach, putting up 17 points despite attempting only 8 field goals as Xavier roared out of the gates in Chicago. However, a shooting slump during January combined with a game plan by opponents to attack him on defense saw his minutes decline during January and much of February, with his cameos coming mostly in the forms of burst of quick, effective scoring. As his three point percentage nosed back up and Xavier’s season had new life breathed into it, there was time for one final, glorious stand at Cintas Center and a chance for the Greensburg, IN to give X fans a performance to remember him by.
Senior Night came on March 9th and Xaiver was hosting St. John’s with a bye at the Big East Tournament, a nation long streak of .500 or better finishes in conference play, and, perhaps most importantly, much needed momentum going into post season play all on the line. With that as the backdrop, Welage pieced together his best game as a Musketeer against a team that prided itself on their athleticism, toughness, and defense. He torched anyone the Red Storm ran at him from beyond the arc, he grabbed an offensive rebound and stickback, he put the ball on the floor and scored, he dished out 4 assists to his teammates as the Johnnies tried to stop him from scoring. Quite simply, in one of the biggest games of the season, Ryan Welage was the standout, dominant player he had been so many times at San Jose State, only this time it was in the Big East in a packed Cintas Center with the eyes of Xavier Nation watching on.
In a year where Xavier struggled at times to get up through the gears on offense, one of the consistencies was that Welage was going to probe and pry at the defense until he got himself a clean look and he was going to lift with no hesitation. As Xavier’s season came back to life and we all realized what a special team this was, perhaps the most beautifully crystallizing moment was Welage putting the final dagger in the Johnnies on a corner three with 3:39 to play and running off the celebrate at half court like David Beckham vs. Greece. It was perfectly thought out and executed, it was an expression of raw emotion, but most of all it was the Xavier Basketball we have all come to know and love. A Welly Bomb that will live long in the hearts of Xavier fans everywhere.