X Falls on the Road to Butler
Andy Mac Williams,
My mood after witnessing in person Xavier's bizarre 69-67 loss to Butler at Hinkle Field House in Indianapolis is ultra crappy!! The atmosphere at historic Hinkle-super charged!! SRO crowd-students juiced and revved. Bad time for Muskies to play their worst by far 1st half of what has so far been an overachieving high performing season. It's like XU players stayed on the bus or just did not want to be there. Give Butler full credit! Bulldogs were locked and loaded and attacking. X just did not respond and retaliate thus BU forged a well deserved 35-21 lead at the break-a hole XU could never climb out of (Muskies never led).
XU's 1st half effort and numbers were just awful(8-23 FG-31%, 2-6 FTs, 11 turnovers, BU blocked 6 shots and altered several more-stuffing XU inside). Over the course of 40 minutes XU threw about 5 passes to nobody (maybe the ghost of Tony Hinkle? or Blue the Bulldog mascot?). Muskies looked befuddled and a step slow.
Butler built the lead steadily and could have named their score(up 20-25??). We knew going in BU was playing better-competitive at Marquette-posting a close win over St Johns. BIG Manny Bates had overcome his knee issues. Jayden Taylor had booked back to back 19 point games. Both were EXCELLENT vs X. Bates scored 19 on 9-10FGS w/ 5 blocked shots and 3 assists. Taylor scored 20 w/ 6 rebounds.
It was Butler's 3rd game in 6 days. XU had almost a week to prepare. I guess rest and practice may be overrated when it comes to home court advantage and almost desperation effort level from the opposition.
Xavier did reset after halftime. Colby Jones led a 9-0 opening run( #3 w/ 7 points-4 rebounds just jamming the ball to the rim). Muskies had little comeback wiggle room after the horrid 1st 20 so 7 2nd half turnovers and more poor FT shooting ultimately doomed the rally.
X climbed the mountain to tie 67-67 w/ 9 seconds left on two Souley Boum FTs. It seemed a gift path to Overtime for XU. Jayden Taylor had a self-described "brain fart" making just 1 of 2 FTs-thinking BU had a 3 point lead instead of 2 and fouling Boum to prevent a 3 point look.
Sean Miller couldn't believe his team did what they did next.
"Nine seconds left-I don't understand it. I've never seen anything like it. Our guys were just standing there next to their guards-not ready-at halfcourt. One ball screen and they get a full court run out and a lay-up."
Eric Hunter went coast to coast for the bucket. Goaltending on Jack Nunge? Count it! 2.5 seconds left No time-outs!
Colby Jones the ultimate in-bounds trigger man finds Boum running free down the right sideline. Boum knew he had two dribbles. He released a perfect form "3" try from maybe 45 feet-just over mid-court(not a heave)-Brad Redford would have endorsed his technique as text book. The shot looked GOOD all the way. Right in my sight line. Just a whisker too long! It clanged off the back rim. Ball Game OVER!! Butler 69-67. Could have been a miracle finish.
Coach Miller seemed realistically morose postgame:
"They ran faster and screened harder, and had more purpose and executed better than us. The atmosphere just overwhelmed our guys. I looked into their eyes in 1st half and there was just no responce. Our effort level was not very good."
Miller described Muskies' season so far as very good but where does this group go from here? The short answer is Milwaukee Wednesday vs Marquette(7 PM EST-CBSSN w/ Pete Gillen scheduled to be the TV analyst). XU is 19-6 now, 11-3 BIG EAST-solo 1st place.
Marquette moves a half game ahead of XU at 12-3 w/ a win at Georgetown today(Noon-FS1). PC and Creighton can pull into an 11-3 tie w/ Xavier today also. PC plays St Johns at MSG(Noon-BIG FOX) while Creighton hosts UConn in Omaha(2 PM EST-BIG FOX). LOG Jam atop the BIG EAST!! Muskies slide to #27 from #25 in NET after the Butler loss. It was a Quad 2 "L". Not good but not a disaster.
Zach Freemantle certainly would have helped at Butler w/ his collection of hooks and crafty medium range dagger shots and his 8.5 rebounds/game in BE play. He won't be back best case until late Feb. or early March.
Time to reset and embrace the underdog role at Marquette and get back on track. Forget NET and BE Standings and NCAA Seeds and just take it possession by possession and 4 minute war by 4 minutes war. Leave the BIG PICTURE to Joey Brackets and Seth Davis and Jay Bilas!!