MUSKIES COMPETITIVE IN PHILLY
Andy Mac Williams,
I can't fault Xavier for their effort and enthusiasm during the 85-75 defeat by BIG EAST leader Villanova(now 5-0) Friday night at Wells Fargo Center. XU had lost in their 5 previous trips to Philadelphia since joining the BIG EAST in the 2013-2014 season and those tilts vs VU were basically "over" by halftime. This was no Philadelphia Ass Kicking(stealing Chris Mack's salty phrasing). The Muskies kept bouncing back-almost climbing the road mountain. With 10 minutes left, the Muskies trailed just 51-50 in the wake of an 8-0 XU run. They never planed the flag at the summit though!
Give Villanova credit! They stayed true to form-banging in 15 threes to just 6 XU makes from distance. That's a huge deficit to make up(-27 points). X won the free throw number by just 3 while shooting poorly from the foul line early and not fully capitalizing on their early bonus status with over 11 minutes to play in regulation.
Xavier owned Villanova in the post and paint for the first 30 minutes, but missed a bunch of very makeable twos at the rim(22-46 in the paint-way below their usual % from two).
Down the stretch, Nova sucked it up on the offensive glass and grabbed a number of long miss rebounds-recycled the shot clock and set-up primarily Collin Gillespie for wide open second chance threes(18 points-6 made three pointers).
VU also enjoyed great shooting luck with a couple three ball makes that ticked the rim-bounced straight up and defying logic-dropped through the net. Hey, if you shoot enough(Nova attempted 34 threes), good things sometimes happen especially for the defending NCAA Champs in Philadelphia.
I'd love the carve the officials, but they sort of let both teams play. X was called for just 13 fouls. There was a momentum killer though. X trailed just 53-50 when Naji Marshall was destroyed on a baseline drive(literally cleaned out and dumped). No call! No FTs! VU scooped up the loose ball and scored in transition. Probably not a game ender, but a huge boost for Villanova and a 4 point swing. Travis Steele went ballistic on the zebra with great justification IMHO.
XU turned the ball over just 7 times to Villanova's 10. The Muskies switched defenses a lot from pack line to 2-3 zone to a 1-3-1 zone look. Travis went small much of the second half playing just one BIG Tyrique Jones because he switches ball screens better than Zach Hankins.
XU pressed over the final 4 minutes so Zach sat then. Hankins scored 12 points in the 14 minutes he did play, but seemed to struggle defending the high ball screen action. Steele was focused and firm in the televised time-out huddle shots.
Tyrique played with fury inside(career high 21 points-12 rebounds in 33 minutes-his most PT ever as a Xavier player). "Q" played 33 minutes after missing two games and looked terrific(12 points-3 assits-2 steals). VU titled their "D" toward Paul Scruggs. He kept working(7 points-4 rebounds-4 assists). Naji played his 4th straight complete game and threw everything he had into it(15 points-6 rebounds-7 assists).
The bench other than Gooden did not help much. When Villanova spurted out to 59-50 then 73-59 Xavier had several excellent defensive trips. X would force a turnover or poor shot then play too fast and get nothing out of the fast break. Too eager! Too quick! Not patient enough!
X is good enough to beat this season's Villanova iteration. Maybe at Cintas on Sunday February 26th? That game will be on the CBS Network. The Muskies knew the winning formula at Villanova. They just failed to execute consistently enough If they make more twos and more free throws(and those chances were there) and win the rebound war for all 40 minutes not just 30, they win the game!
Plus it comes down to stops! VU scored 1.31 points/possession because of their 15 made threes. That's a very high number. X scored decently too(1.15 points/possession-higher than their season average). X took more shots(64 to 60). It is what it is-whatever that means!!
Xavier is now 3-3 in the BIG EAST tied for 3rd with St Johns and Seton Hall. The Muskies host Providence this Wednesday at Cintas(6:30 Tip-FS1). PC(1-3 BIG EAST) plays #15 Marquette(4-1 BIG EAST) Sunday in Milwaukee(noon-CBS SN).