When the calendar turns to March, the eyes of the sports world typically shift toward college basketball as the NCAA Tournament looms. To the previously uninformed observer looking for a bracket busting horse to back in college sports’ best event, today’s performance by Xavier served up scant evidence that they have what it takes to make a run. After battling Big East leading Providence (and their conveniently timed leak) on the road for 55 minutes on Wednesday, Xavier gave the home crowd little to cheer about today as they lost at home to Seton Hall for the 4th straight time.
Xavier opened the game getting carved open by Seton Hall’s offense as Tray Jackson racked up 5 points before the first media timeout and Jared Rhoden looked capable of getting whatever he wanted both on the drive and spotting up. Xavier’s fightback was fronted by the tremendous effort of Colby Jones (20/10/4), who came out of this contest as the lone bright spot for the Musketeers. Caesare Edwards (4/3/0) and Ben Stanley (2/1/1) shone in early cameos and Xavier fought back to lead midway through the first half.
Unfortunately, the game was not called after 10 minutes. Colby Jones was the only Xavier player to score for over 7 minutes and the rest of the team combined to shoot 1-6 from the floor and 0-2 from the line as Xavier turned the ball over 5 times in the final 10 minutes of the half. When Seton Hall dared someone other than Jones to beat them, only a Jack Nunge (6/8/2) jumper kept Xavier from drawing a complete blank. Trailing 38-31 at the half and knowing the Pirates were going to do everything allowed within the rules of the game and decent society to keep Jones quiet in the second half, Xavier needed to get someone else going.
With Paul Scruggs (9/1/3) and Zach Freemantle (11/1/2) starting to hit, it looked like Xavier had found a way back into the game. When Adam Kunkel (10/3/1) knocked down a pair of free throws to cut Seton Hall’s lead to 55-49 with 12:37 to play, it seemed like Xavier was back in the game, ready to hang around until the end. If someone was to take the reins for Xavier and take the game to Seton Hall, there was still a chance to salvage a 1-1 week and a shot at finishing above .500 in the Big East.
Runs that define games are built on a team’s ability to get stops and Xavier, as they were assembled today, simply were not a team that could string stops together. Over the next 8 and a half minutes, Xavier would get a grand total of 6 stops. Over that stretch, Jared Rhoden would nearly match Xavier’s 10 points with 8 of his own, and Xavier would have more turnovers (5) than made field goals (4). Simply put, when the game was in the stretch that would prove decisive today, Xavier brought almost nothing to the table. Once that stretch was over, Xavier trailed by 19, any remaining hope that there would be a second half surge was extinguished, and grim reality had set in for a crowd that hastened for the exits. From there Xavier applied a press that was almost a textbook definition of “too little, too late”, got a couple of baskets from Edwards and Dwon Odom (4/1/5) that affected only final margin of defeat, and fouled Rhoden a couple of times so he could get to 30 points for the first time in his college career.
Today, Xavier needed a response to a three game losing streak that would get them some momentum going heading into the month of the season when everyone wants to be playing their best basketball. Instead, they got one of their worst performances of the season and now go into the final week of the regular season with real questions as to how they get back to playing the kind of basketball they played in November and if they can do that soon enough for it to matter.