There are no bad wins or good losses in a rivalry game. Points aren’t handed out for style (or sportsmanship, as the Argentines could gleefully inform you after remonstrating with the Netherlands just a couple days back) or courage. There is one winner and one loser and - in the case of the Shootout - 364 days to ruminate on that binary result.
Being silent and pensive doesn’t pay the bills here at Banners (though neither does our content, truthfully; this is a hobby), so I’m going to unpack a few thoughts about that game now that I’ve had a night to sleep on it.
Xavier’s defense will be the death of us all
I tweeted at halftime that Xavier would be home and dry if their defense in the first 20 minutes was replicated in the second. It wasn’t. After getting 25 stops and giving up 24 points in 36 first half possessions, X got just 15 stops while giving up 53 points in 38 second half possessions. They gave up 16 points in 9 possessions out of the half to take a game that should have been dead and buried and give Cinci hope that they were still in it. Obviously in the broadest sense, outscoring your opponent is the goal of the game, but X currently doesn’t exercise the option of limiting the other team’s scoring to make that happen. Instead, it’s just a glut of traded baskets and a hope that time runs out before the makes do. It’s kind of stressful to watch.
The bench is struggling right now
In the postgame presser, Coach Miller (the real one) said that some guys came in and tried to do things the team wasn’t asking them to do. From a strategic perspective, it’s pretty easy to surmise he was talking about Cesare Edwards chucking a three. In terms of execution, you’d guess Kyky Tandy’s missed three on one end and compounding a blow-by by needlessly and hopelessly fouling the guy he was “guarding” on the other did little to impress the staff. Jerome Hunter was solid in 12 minutes, only fouled once, and hit rim on his three attempt, and Des Claude was good in the first half but fairly anonymous in the second. Beyond that, there wasn’t a lot of production from the guys who didn’t start. Miller said he thought Boum wore down a little at the end; I’d guess carrying PG responsibilities for 39 minutes in a road rivalry game because there are no credible options behind him will do that to a fella.
Cincinnati didn’t take anything from this game
For all their huffing and puffing in the second half, UC never had the ball with a chance to take the lead. They only tied it because Des Claude had a little rush of blood to the head and broke the cardinal rule of leading by four with less than a minute to go. According to the KenPom win probability graph, their win prob was over 20% for a total of 26 seconds in the second half. First for the 17 seconds between Ody Oguama missing a free throw and Jack Nunge making a three, and then again for the 9 seconds between Des Claude fouling David DeJulius and Viktor Lahkin fouling Souley Boum. Other than that, all their efforts amounted to nothing more than knotting together two short ropes to abseil Toni Kurz.
In a move that will never stop being hilarious to me no matter how many times someone explains it was actually a secret act of genius, Wes Miller tried to 4D chess his way out of the situation by calling a timeout he didn’t have after Boum intentionally missed the second free throw. You could see him explaining to the refs between FTs that, should the second one miss, he wanted to take the timeout immediately, surrender the technical, and take his chances with what resulted. In the end he traded live action - which had Landers Nolley II in free air at half court with a chance to win it - for a dead ball situation that made his best-case scenario a tie that could only be achieved by executing a perfect inbound pass over a seven-footer to go the length of the court in less than a second and hit a three. When Nunge blocked the inbound pass and the ball dribbled flaccidly to nobody as the horn sounded, you wondered how Wes Miller hadn’t foreseen the result that was blindingly predictable to everyone else.
Not thugs, just tough guys on the court
Xavier bent in this game, but the final score attests to the fact that they never broke. They took UC’s best punch and walked it off, and I think that’s testament to the individual and collective mental toughness on the team.
It wasn’t that long ago that UC’s center cowered in mid-air as Ed Sumner punched all over him. Jack Nunge stayed in the fight against Ody Oguama but couldn’t keep his dunk attempt out. With the whole of Fifth Third rocking and a media timeout to marinate in shame, Nunge came down and splashed a three on the next possession.
Xavier’s starting back court was immense. Adam Kunkel took a shot early in the game that had him holding his ribs and unable to lift his right arm above the shoulder. He still played 36 minutes and came up with a huge steal while fronting UC’s star forward/Shootout no-show Lander Nolley II down the stretch. Souley Boum is harder than coffin nails, and that’s what he drove from the free throw line to finish UC off down the stretch.
Zach Freemantle is back. He led both teams in rebounding and posted a cool 14/12/3 on 5-9/1-1/3-4 shooting. His defense helped turn Jeremiah Davenport and Landers Nolley II (combined 15 points on 5-16 shooting with 5 TO) into uniformed spectators. Colby Jones once again got hit in the face and once again did a little bit of everything the box score can reflect, dropping 15/7/4, pitching in a couple of steals, and helping out on Nolley II and Davenport.
When UC was steaming back and Oguama had just taken the roof off the place, X went on an 8-0 run in less than a minute to quiet the crowd. When DeJulius converted a four-point play and the Bearcats needed one stop for glory, Boum drove past the cement feet of Victor Lahkin, drew a clobbering, and cashed out from the line. When Wes Miller tried to be the smartest guy in the room, Sean Miller blanked him by simply assigning a giant to guard the inbound.
It wasn’t always pretty, but it was effective. When presented with the chance to crumble, Xavier instead circled the wagons and took home the win.