Xavier Secures Marquee Win Over Baylor
The Cintas Center was at capacity and purely electric tonight as the #21 Xavier Musketeers battled Big 12 contender and the #16 ranked Baylor Bears. In this early season top 25 matchup, the Musketeers were able to walk off their home court with a 76-63 win that was spearheaded by 19 point games for both J.P. Macura and Kaiser Gates.
Baylor Head Coach Scott Drew said he wanted his team to avoid "getting down early and letting the crowd get involved". Unfortunately for the Bears, the drawn up plan was easier said than done as Xavier opened up a 13-4 lead by the 14:30 mark. Kaiser Gates opened what proved to be a monster breakout game for him by knocking down two threes in this span while Macura caught early fire as well. By the under 12 timeout, additional threes by both Gates and Macura had split the whole arena open as the home court Muskies secured a 21-8 lead.
However, Coach Drew made adjustments to attack the stifling defense being played against his squad, got senior big man Terry Maston the ball, and good things began to happen for the Bears. Although the Muskies lead was cut to 30-29 with 4:30 left, electric play by freshman Naji Marshall and Macura protected the lead. A deep bomb from Macura gave Xavier a 39-34 lead into the locker room.
The second half began on a clumsy, awkward note as neither team was able to find rhythm early. This changed when Kaiser Gates proved to be more than a shooter by getting to the rack on a smooth take at the 17 minute mark. From here, the Musketeers did not turn back. Marshall and Macura stayed highly aggressive to keep the Baylor defense on their heels. Tyrique Jones turned Maston and his 15 first half points into a non-factor as Maston did not even attempt a field goal in the second. Timely buckets by Trevon Bluiett, Karem Kanter, and Sean O'Mara added fuel to the fire as Xavier took a 67-59 lead with 5 to play. Ultimately, it was a Kaiser Gates 3-ball with a minute and a half left that put the nail in the coffin at 72-61.
Some other notes: Sophomore Quentin Goodin will go unnoticed by most tonight in light of big games from others, but he finished the game with 9 assists and 0 turnovers as he demonstrated a great maturity to his game as a floor general. Senior Trevon Bluiett was subject to a bruising defense that keyed in on him as he struggled to find a spark with 10 points. However, Bluiett drawing the attention of the defense garnered Gates the opportunity for a career night which opened several scouts eyes about the 6'8 Junior's potential as an NBA prospect. And, finally, Naji Marshall is a very special basketball player. He is growing into a remarkable guy off of the bench who Chris Mack lauds as a player who "brings energy and isn't afraid of anything".
Despite securing a significant win this early in the season, the team is "not going to celebrate this one" according to Goodin. All eyes of the players, coaches, and fans now turn to the matchup with the Cincinnati Bearcats. Outside of March, there aren't many games which draw this much intensity, passion, and meaning. Starting the week with a win against a top 25 team is something worth being happy about. However, Bearcats matter more to this team and fanbase than Bears do.
CHRIS MACK'S PREDICTION FOR THE RIVALRY GAME: "The game's at twelve. I'm from here, you don't think I'm that dumb do you?"