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Season review: Jason Carter’s transition to the Big East was a rocky one

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ALL JASON CARTERS.

NCAA Basketball: Providence at Xavier
One of two on Nate Watson, pictured helpless and hopeless in the background.
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Xavier basketball was rolling to a nerve-wracking end to the season, then a global pandemic hit the brakes so hard I went right into the windshield. We’ve shaken ourselves off a bit here and will continue, somewhat belatedly, with our breakdown of one of the weirdest Xavier seasons on record.

What did Jason Carter lack at Ohio? He was more or less the lead dog, gobbling up more than a quarter of the team’s possession when he was on the floor. He shot from inside and beyond the arc - kind of a lot - and was pretty dang good at it.

Reasonably, he wanted to try himself against the highest level of competition, which is how he ended up at Xavier.

Carter graduated from Ohio in three years, one of which he spent under a redshirt, meaning he was immediately eligible to play for the Muskies. After spending the first game as a reserve to facilitate Leighton Schrand’s being a starter, he jumped into the starting lineup and never left it.

Despite how rosy that sounds, the season was fairly up and down for Carter. At times, if we’re being honest, he was something of a lightning rod for the frustrations of a fan base not used to spending consecutive seasons on the bubble.

It started out fairly solidly. In the first six games of the season, he hit double figures in scoring twice, pulled down double-digit boards twice, and went 15-15 from the line. The apogee of his early season was 8/10/2 in 47 minutes against UConn in Charleston. His line may not have lit up the scoreboard - particularly on 2-9 shooting - but Travis Steele apparently found his presence on the floor borderline indispensable.

Put a pin in that idea for a moment.

From there, Carter hit a legitimate rough patch. In the next five games - ending with the loss at Wake that agitated the whole fan base - he averaged 5 and 4 and shot 9-29 (31%) from the floor. Despite that, Carter got big minutes whenever the game was in doubt, pulling in 36 against Florida and 34 against Wake Forest to bookend three walkovers against mid-major opponents.

Conference play was a series of fits and starts for Carter. He’d appear in over his head - a total of 11 in 99 minutes against TCU, Nova, and St. John’s - and then turn around and look like he was settling in, dropping 14 on Seton Hall and 11 and 10 on Georgetown right after.

Then another truly brutal stretch. In the six games after Georgetown, he averaged basically 5 and 5 on an absolutely rugged 29.5% shooting. He recovered from that admirably, averaging 8.5 and 4 and shooting .486/.529/.615 in the last six games of the regular season.

Despite his inconsistent production, his final numbers were remarkably even. His non-conference numbers (7.4/5.3/1.8 on 40.7% shooting in 29.5 minutes per game) and Big East numbers (6.8/4.6/1.1 on 44.6% shooting in 28.7 minutes per game) are not quite interchangeable, but perhaps not so far from it. His game-to-game performance varied a good deal; his numbers at the end of the season looked pretty consistent.

The other thing that stayed consistent was his presence on the floor. To the ongoing chagrin of a thousand coaches on Twitter, the actual coach kept writing his name on one of the top five lines of the scorebook. Whether or not you thought he was about to turn the corner, Travis Steele saw something in his performances that merited his continuing to get about the same run throughout the year.

There’s a sense in which it’s easy to be The Guy. At Ohio, Carter could count on having his number called to give him a chance to play his way into the game. At Xavier (which is also in Ohio), he wasn’t ever going to be the first choice, and he had to find other ways to get himself going. That was a work in progress as the season went, but he’ll have another season (if it happens) to continue to build himself into the role.

Also, he punched on Nate Watson twice and don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise.