That picture is what everyone will remember. Paul Scruggs went “psycho mode” after he finished off EJ Liddell’s national player of the year chances. It was one of those Cintas moments that will live on with Myles Davis’ stalk after killing off Georgetown and Edmond Sumner punching on Octavius Ellis.
That isn’t what won Xavier the game, though. Ohio State’s offense came into the game in the top 50 in the nation. After the game they were still 53rd. Xavier smothered them. From the very first defensive possession of the game until the very last, X allowed very few uncontested shots and only 12 second chance points.
It started with the gameplan. EJ Liddell is Ohio State’s best player. He’s also, to put it kindly, a load. Liddell is listed at 6-7, 240. The natural inclination for most coaches has been to put a big man on him and try to limit his efficacy in the paint. That worked to the tune of Liddell going for 25, 29, and 13 (in only 20 minutes) in OSU’s first three games. What Coach Steele did was different. Steele went with a newly bulked up Colby Jones and gambled that his speed would be more effective in keeping Liddell away from the bucket.
That worked. Liddell struggled to get post position on Jones, who was simply too fast. Liddell still managed 17/7/1, but needed 14 shots and an offensive rating of 104 to do it. Slowing the star was part one. Secondly, Xavier threw Liddell’s man and three rebounders at the glass and leaked a guard, usually Dwon Odom or Adam Kunkel. This gave X an easy 12 points on the run out with sacrificing a rebounder. Ohio State came into the game rebounding 36% of their own misses but only got 28.9% against X last night.
Finally, Xavier did two things that let them contest or wall up most shots. They dropped the high hedge (shout out Kenny Frease, 35 feet from the bucket), and they let OSU’s bigs catch the ball, but away from the rim. By not hedging and by not fronting the post, Xavier was in position to be a presence on nearly every shot. That doesn’t mean they blocked a lot of shots, indeed they only got five (Nunge had two, Jones had two, and Miles had one) for a rate of 12.5%. However, Ohio State only shot 37.5% inside the arc. For a season, that would be dead last in the nation. That’s a stellar defensive effort and only OSU’s eight makes and 38.1% from deep kept them in the game.
There are a raft of other things that could be broken down from that game. Xavier forced 13 turnovers and turned those into 10 points. On offense the Musketeers attacked the lane relentlessly and turned that into 38 points in the paint and 24 three point attempts, some of which will surely start to fall soon. Like Joel mentioned in the preview, Xavier battled the Buckeyes to a standstill in the paint and, when it mattered, leveraged their big guards for vital points. Vital points like a left handed dunk over a “star” who wasn’t quite ready.
One more time with feeling.