There is usually an underlying theme in Xavier’s big losses, and there is generally an overwhelming frustration that the game was lost through one particular statistic or at one specific point. Last year against Creighton, it was an atrocious shooting performance. Against Villanova, Edmond Sumner was crushed on the court shortly after tip-off.
For some reason, I just don’t have the same gut-wrenching, bad-taste-in-my-mouth feeling after the Baylor game yesterday. Honestly, I was at the Big 10 Championship last night and had a worse feeling seeing the Wisconsin red every 10 feet as a reminder of March.
Yesterday, it was Xavier’s first half and Baylor’s second half. Remember the good ole times when Xavier was up 21-12 and it looked like Baylor might not be as untouchable as many believed? Then Trevon picked up four fouls, the Musketeers offense turned about as cold as the North Pole, and Baylor pretty literally ran away with the contest, winning 76-61. Xavier had the lead with about 10 minutes to go at 51-50. Then Bluiett was assessed his fourth foul and the game spiraled out of control, as the Bears exploded on a 21-2 run to seal the deal.
Sure, you can say Xavier left it at the free throw line. 16-28 is wretched, but the game was still decided by 15 points. But when your best player has to sit for a large portion of the second half, one of your best shooters in Macura is 2-16 from the field, and you turn it over 17 times, that’s not exactly a recipe for success.
One of the biggest keys to yesterday’s game was rebounding, and Xavier came to play on the boards. Xavier out-rebounded Baylor 47-35, and 18 of those 47 were offensive rebounds. The problem was that the Musketeers couldn’t convert those offensive boards into points, as they only scored 13 second-chance points.
Manu Lecomte was the breakout star for Baylor, scoring 24 points. Johnathan Motley added 17 and eight rebounds. Credit Xavier’s bigs for their work in the low post in boxing-out Motley and Jo Lual-Acuil.
This match-up amplified the Musketeers’ need to have Myles Davis back on the court, but his return to the team is still unknown. His steady leadership and three-point shooting may have broken the wave of scoring and kept the offense under control. On the other hand, Baylor looks to be one of the best teams in the country right now. They now have convincing wins over Oregon, Louisville, Michigan State, and Xavier.
Coach Mack talked about this tough non-conference schedule before the season, mentioning that Xavier would probably take a couple of losses as they worked through their development. They have plenty of opportunities to rebound from this, with two of those coming this week against Colorado and Utah.
This Xavier team really is so far from its finished product that this game doesn’t have me as worried as it might have in years past. Yes, it exposed some weaknesses. Other players besides Bluiett and Sumner have to score the basketball to win (they had 42 of 61 points). But this game occurred so early in the season that there is plenty of time to adjust, correct the problems, and work through what happened. If this happened with a week to go before the Big East tournament, that would be one thing. It’s only the first week of December, there’s no need to panic.
Beating a top-10, and now probably top-5, team on the road is incredibly difficult. Luckily, this is a home-and-home series, so Baylor will be making the trek to the Cintas Center around this time next year.