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The difference a coach makes

This is why Xavier hired Sean Miller

Syndication: The Enquirer
“For the love of God, play defense!”
Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

A lot of us have probably coached at some level. Whether that’s being a graduate assistant where you went to college, 6U soccer, or somewhere else on the coaching spectrum, we’ve all lined up the troops and sent them out. In that, there are few things more frustrating than when you spend all that time prepping, scouting, and practicing, only to send your team out and have them look like they’ve never played the game before.

So imagine how Sean Miller must have felt last night. He’s an elite coach at an elite program and watching his team rise from the ash of their early season. Last night, all they had to do was swipe aside the desiccated corpse of what was once a proud program. Just beat a team that has won once in conference this season and just three times in the last 43 conference games. And for some reason his team just couldn’t do it.

Coach Miller spent last night screaming, cajoling, yelling, pleading, begging, and desperately hoping his team would put something together. For just about the entire game they didn’t. No matter how many timeouts he spent reminding the team that the three point shot was legal now, they just kept not defending it.

This game came down to the last two possessions. In Xavier’s you could see the machinations of a team that knew what to do. Des Claude went to work and then found space. Abou Ousmane collapsed down, Quincy Olivari flared, and Dayvion McKnight drifted to the top where you would want a point guard to go. Most importantly, Daiyln Swain found his spot and then attacked.

On Georgetown’s last possession, Coach Miller did something he hadn’t all day. With Jayden Epps having the game of his life, Miller ran two long defenders at him to make him give the ball up. It ended up in the hands of Jay Heath, who was a scorching 1-8 in the second half. Georgetown’s second plan, abject panic. didn’t pan out. Xavier won.

Maybe that’s unfair on Ed Cooley, who might be a good coach but hasn’t really demonstrated that. Georgetown had indeed run Xavier close in a game they shouldn’t have, but consider that they shot 47.8% behind the arc, missed just one of 21 free throws, and only turned the ball over on 13% of their possessions and still couldn’t get the win. With Jay Heath obviously flagging, Cooley wouldn’t take him out. Heath was exhausted and played all 40 minutes. In one of those things that always happens, the ball found him at the end.

Xavier also needed a star to make a play late. They turned to Des Claude. Miller had benched him early in the game in a frank discussion about defensive effort. He’d also snagged Des a couple other minutes of vital rest. When the ball sought Claude out late in the game, he had the legs to make the plays.

Ultimately, it comes down to a feel you get. Xavier took on the manic personality of their coach when it mattered. They fought, scrapped, and defied their own death. Georgetown didn’t look like they believed. As Ed Cooley stood with his arms folded watching the final possession, he didn’t look like he believed either. Xavier, and their coach, did. Sean Miller is here for the games like this, for the ones where something special needs to happen to get the win. Last night was a good night for Sean Miller to be Xavier’s coach.