One of the top-tier Big East teams played an extremely close game against a bottom-tier Big East team Wednesday night. The game went all the way down to the wire, where the bottom-feeder had a chance in their last possession to send the miracle of a game into overtime. That was a match-up in Philadelphia between Villanova and DePaul. In Cincinnati, the complete opposite unfolded.
The Providence Friars’ mascot is unnerving; the stuff of nightmares and horror films. Well, their basketball team was a far-cry from intimidating Wednesday, because after Providence (10-4) scored first, it was all Xavier (11-2) from there on out.
I could copy and paste the same generic line into nearly every game recap about the offense. JP (who donned some snazzy white sleeves, 10/10 would like to see again), Trevon, and Edmond scored the largest chunk of the team’s points and (insert big man’s name) was effective down low. Same old, same old; the Big Three + one other. Yes, all three scored 10+ points, and RaShid rounded out the bunch with 12 points. The offense was good, catapulting Xavier to their largest win in conference play since joining the Big East. But there was much more to the game than the offense.
Two storylines emerged as the game concluded. The first was the team’s stout defense, which has been far better than expected to this point in the year. We expected Xavier to play well on defense because Coach Mack stresses it, but for the defense to be statistically better than the offense after one game in the conference season is a tad bit surprising.
Only four Friar players scored in the first half, and Rodney Bullock, the team’s leading scorer coming into the night at over 19 points per game, was not one of them. The Musketeers held him scoreless on 0-8 shooting, and he finished the night with a measly two points, going 1-11 from the field. I’m no math wizard, but I’ll take a shot in the dark and say 9% isn’t exactly what you want from your best scorer.
Isaiah Jackson and Jalen Lindsey ended up having 17 and 15 points, respectively, but Providence never seriously posed a threat. They shot 38% from the field, as opposed to Xavier’s 60%. Once again, no math wizard, butttttt I think 22% is a fairly significant difference.
The other aspect of Xavier’s performance that was particularly noteworthy was their team chemistry. Check out this play that highlights what I’m talking about:
JP could have easily taken that to the rim himself, and maybe even drawn a foul. Instead, he rewarded Malcolm for running the floor, and energized the crowd with a transition alley-oop. After the game, Trevon was asked if it bothered him that he wound up a rebound shy of a double-double. He said,”It bugs me so much right now. I’ll have nightmares about it too.” Something tells me that he really couldn’t care less. That’s what you’re looking for out of a good basketball program: selfless play, which leads to successful play (should I trademark that?). Yes, things are happening. Good things are happening.
One last thing to note. In the postgame press conference, Providence coach Ed Cooley said after the game, “All you writers are very very fortunate to cover such a great basketball team. Actually, you’re really spoiled. Don’t, don’t ever take that for granted. Don’t ever take that for granted. You guys have a great organization you should be really really proud.” We here at Norwood Hardwood aren’t all that high on the totem pole of Xavier media, but we like to think it’s pretty fun to cover this program too. So, good on ya Coach Cooley. Thanks for the appreciation.
Now Xavier has one last chance to notch a win before the calendar flips to 2017. The Musketeers are a long way from the finished product, and Myles Davis has yet to re-enter the picture. But last night provided an often-skeptical, never-easily-pleased Xavier crowd that this team may end up being pretty good after all.