Coming off a high intensity win in the Crosstown Shootout and a week off, Xavier opened this game picking up where they left off with their rivals. Once Winthrop got their bearings and started trying to control the pace to their liking, Xavier’s hot start quickly gave way to a bit of a slog at the end of the first half and into the second. However, behind double digit efforts from four Musketeers, Xavier was able to ride out some of their offensive struggles with a smothering defensive effort and walk away winners in the final non Big East tilt until whatever postseason play brings.
Quincy Olivari is Xavier’s go to guy entering Big East play
After a slow start to the season saw him shooting 28% from deep after 4 games, Olivari began to slowly turn things around. Over the last two weeks, he has definitively stepped to the fore to become Xavier’s most potent offensive weapon. Against the nation’s top defense in Houston, he was the lone Musketeer to post an ORTG above 100. That preluded 34 against Delaware and 27 against Cincinnati before he dropped a cool 22 tonight to lead all scorers. His driving layup with 11:57 left was part of Xavier responding to Winthrop getting back within a point for the first time in the second half and his three with 4:45 on the clock essentially ended Winthrop’s fading hopes of mounting an upset. Olivari was aggressive tonight in transition and kept the defense honest by getting to the rim a couple of times and converting, finishing 4-5 from inside the arc. For Xavier to overcome the Q3 losses and stack enough good wins in conference play to matter come Selection Sunday, they need someone who can get them buckets in a hurry and Olivari seems to have emerged as that guy.
Xavier’s guards turned this game
In addition to Olivari’s 22/3/0, Xavier got another near double double from Dayvion McKnight, who had 11/4/9 with another 3 steal in 39 minutes, and a much better showing from Desmond Claude, who finished with 15/7/6. Neither shot the ball particularly efficiently, but from the point that Winthrop got back within 1 with 13:28 left, Claude responded with 7/5/4 down the stretch on 2-4 from the floor with 0 turnovers and McKnight had 9/2/2. There have been moments when Xavier was tested and failed to rise to the occasion this season, and after the Delaware game the need for leaders was pointed out. Tonight, two guys who had been struggling to that point stepped forward when Xavier got punched in the mouth and wrenched the game back in X’s favor, basically matching Winthrop’s score by themselves over the final 13 minutes and helping hold the line at the defensive end as Xavier pulled away.
Ousmane is starting to emerge
Abou Ousmane looked to be playing himself out of playing time at one point in this young season. Unable to keep himself on the court due to unending foul trouble, he was dropped from the starting lineup and had a 4 game stretch where he was averaging just 11.5 minutes per game. Against Cincinnati, he battled against a front line that had a size advantage on him and were the strength of the Bearcats squad and came away with a double double. Tonight, he didn’t quite make it to double figures, but 7/9/1 with 4 blocks in 23 minutes represents another strong showing for the North Texas transfer. Xavier was +18 in the 23 minutes he played tonight and he was a huge part of Xavier’s 10 point advantage in points in the paint. Pair that with 11/9/0 from Gytis Nemeiksa and Xavier’s frontcourt is starting to take shape a bit more. Lazar Djokovic’s line wasn’t superficially impressive at 4/3/2, but he did look more ready to assert himself over Winthrop’s front line and seems like he is getting more comfortable every game.
The Big East awaits
This game was somewhat of a no win situation for Xavier as a Q4 contest. From here on out, they are in games that are going to carry a lot more weight come Selection Sunday and also games against Georgetown and DePaul. Xavier has basically used up any margin for error that existed already and need to hit the ground running and start getting quality wins as we enter Big East play. Starting on Wednesday at Carnesecca Arena, Xavier’s squad of 10 new guys and Des Claude needs to be ready to take every chance they get because the Big East offers them both an opportunity to overcome their shortcomings in non conference play and a gauntlet of tests that will determine if they are worthy to make it back to the NCAA Tournament in March.