Games like these first two Xavier has played present very little in terms of NCAA Tournament prospects, unless you go the Michigan State or DePaul route, but can provide valuable chances for teams to gather experience and get used to playing with each other. A season ago, a Colby Jones-less Xavier trailed Fairfield at halftime in a game that featured a then career high 21 minutes from Desmond Claude and turned into a 13 point win for Xavier. Tonight, Xavier came bursting out of the gate, building a double digit lead in the first 10 minutes, before Jacksonville’s switch to zone threw a spanner in the works and challenged Xavier’s new look roster to dig deep for answers. Behind 17 from Quincy Olivari, 12 from Desmond Claude, and double digit showings from Daylin Swain and Trey Green, Xavier found their footing in the second half and didn’t just hold out for the win, but won in resounding fashion.
The Freshmen showed out.
Against the man to man defense Jacksonville started the game with, Xavier’s guards were able to drive the ball and score or create seemingly at will. Perhaps no one took fuller advantage of this than Trey Green, who used his lightning quickness and slick handle to full effect, being the first Musketeer to 6 points and shooting a perfect 3-3 from inside the arc before the break. As Xavier struggled to find cracks in the zone in the second half, it was Green who helped stretch the Jacksonville defense by hitting a three on the heels of Gytis Nemeiksa snapping an 0-11 streak from deep for X. Daylin Swain may have been Xavier’s best player tonight, posting 15/4/3 with a block and 3 steals on 4-6/2-3/5-6 shooting. The comparison to Colby Jones is a weighty one, but Xavier’s #3 tonight was all over the floor making heady plays, rarely looking flustered, and displaying an innate ability to find loose balls coupled with an unrelenting drive to make sure they are his. In their second college game, these two were able to display what made them such heralded recruits and come up with some big plays to turn the tie in Xavier’s favor.
Xavier’s shooting has to improve
This is plainly stating the obvious, but the fats are the facts. Xavier did not struggle to find looks when Jacksonville switched to zone and before they started pressing a bit in the second half, turnovers weren’t an issue for much of the night. The offense worked as intended for the most part, but the three players who Xavier clearly wanted taking the threes, Quincy Olivari, Desmond Claude, and Trey Green (sorry Abou, not you), combined to go 4-23 from deep. Olivari has a track record that suggests this was simply an off shooting night for him and Claude’s uptick last year and essentially every scouting report on Green indicate they will have better games as well, so the hope is that 24% will represent a nadir for this group and not a trend.
On to Purdue
The tune ups are done for X and now it is time to see what this group is made of at Mackey Arena against one the strongest teams in the sport with the undisputed best player in the sport. Purdue has opened the season by obliterating a pair of mid-majors and will look at Xavier as their first real barometer after last season’s March nightmare. It is a huge ask for X and nobody from outside of the Big Ten has won in West Lafayette since November of 2019, but these are the games that we wait for all summer. Whatever the outcome on Monday, College Basketball is well and truly back and that should put smiles on faces.