After a performance this weekend where it looked as if Xavier’s offense had forgotten how to get out of first gear, Xavier got a chance against Big East basement dwellers DePaul to get things going again. One half of basketball featuring Xavier’s most impressive barrage of the season later, Xavier once again looked like all was right. Xavier’s first posession of the game was a harbinger of what was to come when Jason Carter, with the shot clock about to expire, dribbled into a sliver of space at the top of the key and drained a three to get Xavier on the board. It was the first of his 3 makes in the half and 1 of 10 Xavier would make in the opening 20 minutes on their way to an 8 point cushion. The achilles heel in the first half was an unfamiliar one for the Musketeers as DePaul got back 9 of their 17 misses on the offensive glass.
Xavier’s elite ball movement had led them to 11 assists on 16 makes and a 10-19 performance from three, but it was nowhere to be found at the beginning of the second half as Xavier sputtered out of the break and DePaul quickly had the lead down to a single possession. With the game hanging in the balance with 14 minutes left, Xavier held DePaul without a point for over 5 minutes and went on a 10-0 run to retake control and from there see out a win in a game that did not so much represent an opportunity taken as a pitfall avoided.
Ball movement and security are highly influential
After a game in which Xavier only assisted 55% of their 20 makes and turned the ball over twice more than they picked up assists, Xavier was moving the ball at a very high level for much of the game tonight. The turnover bug bit in a big way at the start of the second half, but the overall numbers are impressive: 22 assists on 28 makes, 14 turnovers only 2 of which came in the last 12 minutes of the game before garbage time. The emphasis was clearly on making passes quicker and trying to attack the defense with the dribble after doing neither of those things very well against Villanova. DePaul is a defense that is second only to St. Johns in turnovers created in Big East play, so Xavier’s handling of them for the final 12 minutes bodes well for the future.
Making threes is a lot of fun
Xavier’s lack of outside shooting has been both notable and a bit vexing this year as they have struggled to consistently hit shots from deep. Tonight, Xavier was htting from deep all night, starting 10-19 in the first half and ending up 12-25 for the game (48%), which is a new season hight for makes. Even more encouragingly, 5 different players hit from deep with Paul Scruggs, Naji Marshall, Jason Carter, and Kyky Tandy all making multiple triples. With this being an outlier in Xavier’s shooting lines on the season, especially in conference play, it is hard to say it will keep up, but the better ball movement and better shooting fed into one another toight and it was fun to watch.
Ultimately, it was the defense that got it done
Not only did Xavier hold DePaul without a bucket for over 5 crucial second half minutes, but they forced 12 turnovers in the second half and held DePaul to 25 points until they scored 6 on Xavier’s walk ons including a dunk by Romeo Weems after which he decided to stare down Leighton Schrand for God only knows what reason. When the game mattered and the people who clowned Weems for the previous 19 minutes were out there, Xaiver locked off the glass, forced DePaul into high risk passes and shut down their ability to shoot themselves back into the game. Even in a game where the offense was humming at times, it was ultimately the end of the floor where Xavier has hung their hat all season that got it done in this one.