Muskies Show True Grit!! Outslug Muscular Seton Hall!!
Andy Mac Williams,
Xavier fans were apprehensive prior to Wednesday's late night(9:15) Cintas Center tip against a burly Seton Hall team(Top 15 NCAA in most rebounding statistics).Not to worry!! The Muskies came up large winning 72-70!! Pushing their Big East record to 6-3(third place behind Villanova and Creighton) and shoring up their very strong #15 NCAA RPI!! Two Frosh started for XU(Quentin Gooden at PG for injured Edmond Sumner and Tyrique Jones at center ahead of veterans Rashid Gaston and Sean O'Mara).The first few four minute wars were just that-battles-ugly mortal body to body contact. The Muskies maybe surprised the Pirates with their focus and feistiness???
The Hall hadn't played in a week. Maybe they expected a down in the dumps effort from the Muskies in the wake of Ed's unfortunate injury just 72 hours before??? Xavier outhustled the Seton Hall guards and outmuscled their twin rebounding rocks Delgado(NCAA rebound leader at 12.9/game) and Sanogo(6.8/game).
The Muskies struggled to score,but they consistently got to the rim and created multiple second and third chances. SHU coach Kevin Willard tested rookie PG Gooden marking him early with 5th year Wake Forest transfer Madison Jones. He tried to jump trap "Q" in the deep back court and twice Quentin made the smart pass to beat the ball pressure with lay-ups.That ended the experiment!!
Gooden wound up holding up very well. He logged 35 minutes productively(8 points-7 assists). He made vital plays down the stretch(late FTs and a monster block on Pirate Frosh micro-wave guard Myles Powell). Quentin changed gears and got to the rim impressively. The shots around the bucket didn't always fall(2-11FG),but that will improve. #3's drive and dish game set up a bunch of scoring chances for BIGS Sean O'Mara,Rashid Gaston and Kaiser Gates.
They seem much more effective when rolling to the basket rather than just catching and posting. Gooden's dribble drives open passing lanes and scramble defenses. O'Mara,Gaston and Gates combined for 30 points and 20 rebounds against the best inside team in the Big East.Nice numbers!! And the BIGS defended well-walling up-doubling judiciously and not fouling much. Seton Hall shot just 12 FTs and continued to struggle at the line with only 6 FT makes.
EIGHT MAN ROTATION WORKED FINE!!!
J.P. Macura took one for the team and rotated to PG when "Q" rated a rare rest. Kaiser Gates played starters minutes(31) and posted starters numbers(13 points-8 rebounds-4-5FGs-3 made threes). He battled inside and floated outside showcasing his versatility. Macura's three point mojo was missing so he scored close to the rim(10 points) and rebounded his butt off(7 boards). XU debuted a revamped zone(2-3 not 1-3-1) and except for sniper Myles Powell(26 points-6 made threes) it worked decently. The rest of the Pirates were 2-17 from outside the arc. 29 three point attempts is way too many for a team as talented inside as SHU.
Don't forget Trevon Bluiett!! He tweaked an ankle early after landing awkwardly taking a floater in the lane. Tre sucked it up.Dave Flucker applied the re-tape job in record time and Bluiett played 36 minutes(24 points-7 rebounds-winning basket with 4.4 seconds left on a drive and pop-up into a triple team). Trevon validated his Big East Player of the Week selection(40 points in the Crosstown Shootout-21 points at St Johns).
He's also now a Finalist for the Dr.J(Julius Irving) Award as the NCAA's Best Small forward. There are 10 players on the short list including Villanova's Josh Hart and Kelan Martin of Butler. 6-3 halfway through the Big East meat grinder double round robin schedule is a decent place to be. The three losses are to Top 25 teams Villanova(#4) Butler(#15) and Creighton(#22).
Xavier heads to Omaha Saturday afternoon to play the Creighton Blue Jays at sold-out Century Link Center(18,000 plus with standing room). It's a 3PM EST Tip on Big Fox-Channel 19 locally). XU lost 72-67 to CU on MLK Day at Cintas.The Muskies led 67-66 with less than a minute to play. Xavier shot FTs horribly(16-29) and turned the ball over 17 times including 7 charges. The Muskies wasted a huge game by Rashid Gaston(12 points-17 rebounds) and dominant rebound numbers. Creighton adjusted on the fly when star PG Mo Watson left with a torn ACL. CU got balanced scoring. Isaiah Zierden filled in at PG well and sub Toby Hegner killed XU with 12 points off the bench.
The Blue Jays(20-3,7-3 Big East-second place) lost two in a row after their win in Cincy adjusting to Watson's loss. Marquette out shot them in Omaha 102-94 and Georgetown froze them out in DC 71-51. Coach Greg McDermott re-thought his rotation now splitting the PG minutes between Frosh Davion Mintz(lanky fast driver) and Junior former walk-on Tyler Clement.
Zierden has returned to his wing sub three point shooting role. BIG(6-9 245) Sr. Zach Hanson has returned from ankle surgery. He's helped in the post in wins against DePaul and at Butler(76-67 last Tuesday).CU has regained its collective touch from three point range(13-21 at Butler). They score 85PPG and tend to start quickly in Omaha.
The Jays buried Xavier early at Century Link last season running out to a 21-4 lead and winning 70-56. XU made 1 of 21 threes. Trevon Bluiett scored just 4 points. Xavier posted a vital 74-73 victory in Omaha on their Senior day two years back. Dee Davis and Matt Stainbrook powered the Muskies as they basically secured an NCAA bid with that road win and then roared into the Sweet 16. Overall,XU's 1-4 at Century Link. Most games have been close. At least now we don't have to deal with Missouri Valley officials. CU is 195-40(83%) at CLC since it opened.
Creighton has compensated for Watson's absence. They're back to running and "Letting It Fly!!" as in three pointers. K-State transfer Marcus Foster(18PPG) is an explosive scorer inside and out. 7 foot RS Frosh Justin Patton makes 71.4% of his FGs(third NCAA) and has thrown down 54 dunks so far. He flirts with foul trouble. Soph 6-5 Wing Khri Thomas(12PPG) is a smooth killer in transition and lately from outside the arc. 6-6 Senior Cole Huff(10PPG) has battled knee problems. He is a lethal jump shooter. Hegner,Hanson and Zierden comprise an experienced bench.
HOW CAN XAVIER PULL THE UPSET??
Creighton is 11-2 at home with losses to Villanova and Marquette. They are usually shot out of a cannon at the CLC. The Muskies have an inside edge if the BIGS play like they did against Seton Hall. PG Gooden can do damage driving and dishing against the smaller CU PGs Mintz and Clement. Bluiett needs to score 30. Macura has to make the open shots he will get. X can't play flat-out chuck and duck on the road against these guys though.
Patient pass and cut offense will yield great shots. Attack Patton and make him take silly reach-in fouls. Pressure their inexperienced PG tandom and get some fast break buckets. Get even with Creighton after Xavier gift wrapped the win for them at Cintas with bad FT shooting.