How would you have wanted this game to start? Xavier has been in dogfights all season, including the away leg of this matchup, where they turned an 18-point second-half lead into a semi-nervy 5-point win. Now down a starter and coming off an OT battle against Providence, you’d hope the home team could come out hot and maybe give themselves a chance to work some depth rather than continue running the starters ragged.
With just 2:36 gone in the first half, St. John’s was already calling timeout as Xavier was yet to miss a shot and leading 10-2. Whatever happened in that huddle didn’t do a whole lot, as Xavier scored 7 points on their next three possessions to go up 17-4 before the first media timeout. In a game that X may well have been looking to put away early, they made strides in that direction before Fox’s first contractually obligated commercial break.
Of course, it has been a trend this season that Xavier comes out cauterizingly hot and then falls back to earth a little bit, letting an opponent find its feet and work back into the game. Today was not that day. It took St. John’s nearly 8 minutes to get into double digits; by that time, the Muskies had 24 and were romping. If you were waiting for the let down, it never really happened.
It was a dominant first-half offensive performance that had the home team up 49-30 at the break. Xavier shot 17-28/7-13/8-12 before the break and only turned the ball over 5 times against St. John’s’ swarming defense. Mike Anderson tried man, full court press, zone, and half trap, and none of it mattered. Despite 2 points on 0-1 shooting from Souley Boum, the Muskies got whatever they wanted on the attack. The game wasn’t analytically final at the break, but it was probably close.
The opening of the second half removed all doubt. Thirteen seconds in, Souley hit a three off of a kick from Nunge. Then Colby scored a driving layup, Kunk hit a little jumper, and Souley hit a couple more threes bracketed around a bucket from Big Rome. A 19-point lead was 29 before the first media timeout. From there, it was just a question of exactly what the final score would be as Xavier moved to 11-2 in the Big East and kept pace with Marquette at the top of the league.
You want takeaways, too? I got you:
There might be some depth there after all
With Kyky Tandy very limited by illness - the kid is borderline cursed - Kam Craft got plenty of run. He made the most of it, scoring 8, knocking down a three, and looking fairly composed in a game that admittedly could hardly have been more comfortable for the Muskies. Cesare Edwards got some extended run and looked aggressive on offense, drawing three fouls and going for 3/1/1 and shooting 3-4 from the line. Des Claude continued to be himself with a casual 11/3/3, and even Dieonte Miles got some run. If X can just get 20 minutes out of bench guys who aren’t Des Claude until Zach Freemantle gets back, it will be a win for the team.
The defense is still garbage
St. John’s is not a good offensive team. There were stretches in the second half in which Xavier could not make them miss. They shot 8-17 from beyond the arc, tying their season-high in threes outside of buy games. The Muskies are a dynamic offense and obviously down one of their best players, but they are going to have to be able to get some stops at some point in time.
Zach Freemantle was holding this team back
The Muskies are now 2-0 without... I’m just kidding. Get well soon, Zach!
There are no easy wins in the league
I’ll grant that this win looked pretty easy. Xavier’s next game is a road trip to Butler to take on a Bulldogs team that has sucked the paint off the walls all year. That same team just had it within 5 with 5 to play at Marquette earlier today. If Xavier enters their barn assuming an easy win is on the way, it could be a pretty quiet ride back to Cincinnati. If the Muskies go on to take the Big East, it will be because they found a way to have their full focus on games like a Friday night matchup against Butler. The performance that was on display tonight will need to be replicated at Hinkle.