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Xavier provides a bright spot on a dark day

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The Musketeers overcame the Red Storm on a day that won’t be remembered for basketball.

NCAA Basketball: St. John at Xavier
#ODOMIZED
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

“The metropolis of our country was abandoned to its horrid fate.” - Mordecai Booth, August 24th, 1814.

Xavier didn’t play the evening of August 24th, 1814. On that evening men clad in red and in misguided defense of a rightly deposed leader marched through the US Capitol and burned it. Xavier didn’t play that night. British Major General Robert Ross laughed to an onlooking woman as the flames danced and a hurricane blew in that both he and “Providence” intended to destroy the city that night. That was the last time that armed invaders crossed the threshold of the US Capitol. Xavier didn’t play.

Today scenes reminiscent of that night played out again. The US flag was hauled down from its place and one proclaiming a deposed leader was run up instead. Men in red and carrying rifles once again wrought destruction to a US Capitol from which the rightly elected leaders of the people had fled in fear. The flag of the last armed rebellion, begun 160 years ago and squelched five years after that, crossed the Potomac and was hoisted in the Rotunda. On this night Xavier did play, and we will tell you about it, but, with the metropolis of the country again staring down a horrid fate, that isn’t really the story of the day is it?

Xavier and St. John’s started the game as if they were both fighting a serious malaise. At the half the score was 27-27 as the teams took turns demonstrating the things they were bad at. St. John’s is terrible at interior defense. Xavier scored their first 12 points in the paint. Xavier is not a good shooting team and set out to prove that by not making a shot that wasn’t a layup until over five minutes had passed. In the first half the Musketeers made four shots that weren’t either layups or dunks. This wasn’t indicative of an offense getting the looks it wanted, but rather appalling shooting.

The game went back and forth like that for some time. As Xavier finally got the inside scoring going, the defense collapsed. After scoring 27 points in the first 20 minutes, SJU scored 24 in the next 12. Xavier hung with them through the efforts of Paul Scruggs (10/4/3) and a kid making his star turn. Colby Jones (16/4/3) was the driving force behind Xavier finally showing the urge to win this game. While the team was playing like a bucket of tepid bathwater, he took the reins and began to force the issue. St. John’s likes to play fast and, with few exceptions, Jones looked like he was ready to play even faster. Confident, comfortable, and possessed of an array of post moves, Jones looked up for the fight.

That energy transferred to the rest of the team as the Musketeers shook themselves awake. For the last 12 minutes of the game Xavier looked like a team familiar with the concept of basketball. St. John’s press caused problems, but X players made winning plays. Adam Kunkel (2/0/1) shook off a bad shooting night and hit the floor to win back possession. Shortly thereafter, Jason Carter (11/16/1) got called for a foul.

That is normally not a noteworthy occurrence, but what happened afterward was. Xavier’s sexy flannel of a basketball player was livid. Carter may cut an unassuming figure with his standard haircut and his praiseworthy demeanor, but he unleashed on the closest official and had to be dragged away by his teammates. From that moment on, the Musketeers finally found sixth gear. Until a Julian Champagnie layup with 3:03 to play, Xavier went on a 13-1 run post Carter foul that was part of a 17-1 run that ended the game as a contest. Behind the drive of Jones and the fire of Carter, who raked in 13 defensive boards, a win was salvaged.

It was salvaged despite an off game for Xavier in almost every way. A team that averages .83 points per possession and turns the ball over 19 times should not win a basketball game. A team that shoots only 46% inside the arc and goes 0-12 behind the line should not win a basketball game. A team that has 15% of their shots blocked and shoots only 61% at the line should not win a basketball game. Xavier won because they finally owned the glass and because they came alive at the right time to beat a thoroughly mediocre opponent.

Xavier’s game may not be the reason anyone remembers January 6th, 2020. The scenes of flares lighting America’s Capitol Dome as riots continue into the night assure that. And while I, personally, questioned the wisdom of playing basketball while arrests for insurrection were being made in Washington, I must admit it was a pleasant reprieve. Watching Xavier’s players, who marched and spoke and created content all summer, play alongside teammates and opponents of all color and creed with no visible animus was a pleasant reminder of what America at it’s best can be. How long it takes to recover that as a nation or whether it ever happens remains to be seen. Until then, Xavier Nation, enjoy the two and half hour break from the chaos. Xavier won. Hug your partner, high five your kids (you did let them stay up, right?), text your friends. We can get back to being adults in the morning. Godspeed.