Sometimes people who climb mountains get into trouble. Up in the rarefied air above 8000 meters, things can go wrong, and go wrong quickly. Even on lower mountain, a slide down the slope isn’t sledding, it’s a plummet toward death. To combat that, mountaineers are trained to self-arrest, a technique where the climber plunging down the mountain flips onto his stomach and attempts to bury an ice axe in the snow to slow his descent. If it works, he lives, if not, he dies.
In one of those moments that is forever capitalized, The Belay saw American climber Pete Schoening watch in horror as the five men below him on the line climbing K2 all lost their footing and began a plunge off the world’s most dangerous mountain that would surely kill all six of them. Schoening made an incredible save by hooking his axe into a boulder buried in the snow over 20,000 feet up the mountain. All five men below him on the line jerked to a halt as he held on ferociously. With nothing but blue sky below them, the climbers were saved.*
Hopefully the analogy here was not so tortured that you can’t see the parallels. While none of the Musketeers are likely to die, the season is very much hurtling toward the edge with no obvious way to stop it. Xavier has lost six of seven, has watched their KenPom ranking drop from 18th to 49th, has dropped out of the AP poll, and have dropped to 36th in the NET. That much dropping can only presage a dive off the cliff.
Xavier is barely hanging on at this point. Adam Kunkel tried to slow the plunge at Providence but came up three inches short. Colby Jones frantically did everything he could against Seton Hall but could only watch in despair as the rest of the team flailed around pretty helplessly. Jack Nunge has long been the man carrying the load, but he seems completely exhausted.
The Musketeers need someone, from super senior Paul Scruggs down to energetic freshman Cesare Edwards, to step up and deliver the performance that saves them. There are no chances left. The edge is beckoning and the chasm gaping. Xavier can win tonight, or they can start to make peace with playing Villanova with the season on the line.
The last time out against St. John’s the Musketeers were 4-20 behind the arc. Kunkel made two, Scruggs made one, and Nunge made one. The rest of the team was 0-6. The Red Storm compressed the lane and dared Xavier to make the shots to beat them. X couldn’t. Into that space tonight comes (hopefully) Nate Johnson. Nate wasn’t shooting well before he got hurt, but he represents Xavier’s last, best hope. If he can score from deep, the lane will open and Xavier will have a chance.
If not, all that will be left of an expedition that started so promisingly will be a pile of wreckage and onlookers left to wonder where it all went wrong.
*The lowest man on the line, Art Gilkey, was injured badly and cut himself free so the other five could live. I’m going to stop short of suggesting any player do that.