There are so many things running through my head about this game and the season in general that I am going to keep this condensed and specific to today’s affair. Simply put, this was about as winnable a game against Villanova as I thought there had been in a long time. Villanova announced shortly before the game that they would be without post-player Darrell Reynolds. His absence, causing Nova to have to play with a seven-man rotation, and the home-court advantage gave me all sorts of positive vibes at tip-off.
You might read the box score and see that Xavier suffered their worst home loss (16 points) since 2011 and think to yourself, “Wow, Nova killed them!” But that was not the case.
The problem was, Nova always kept X an arms-length away; tantalizingly close enough for the crowd to stay motivated but with a wide enough gap that the game was never really tense. People forget that at one point Xavier lead 12-9, but then Villanova went on an 11-0 run to take the lead for good. The most significant blow to Xavier’s chances was when Trevon Bluiett suffered another ankle injury early on and only returned for a brief amount of game action. He’d already been nursing a sore ankle, and the Musketeers were already employing a depleted lineup.
The students were amped, the crowd was crazy, but the game was maddeningly frustrating. Xavier dominated the Wildcats on the glass, winning the rebounding battle 42-26(!!!). That effort just didn’t prove to be the turning point though, especially when JP Macura and Quentin Goodin combined to shoot 6-30 from the field. In addition, although he only saw limited action, this was the first game in his Xavier career that Trevon didn’t score.
Norwood Hardwood doesn’t award an “Impact Player” after a loss, but RaShid Gaston was about as impactful as a player can be. He had 23 points and 10 rebounds en route to leading the team in scoring. His rebounds were critical, and his scoring helped Xavier stay in it.
A little tangent here, but check this out: at one of the media timeouts, a student is selected to shoot a half court shot to win free Penn Station subs for themselves for the year as well as one sandwhich for the entire student section. Well, today, a senior was in luck:
Xavier had their chances to get a win over the defending national champions, but it was not meant to be. For now, we can only look to the future and know that, at least in my opinion, Xavier is trending up. Before you give me a weird look, consider this: with essentially a seven-man rotation and X’s two best players out of the game, they were still fighting with five minutes to go. They’re becoming a more cohesive unit as they adjust to Quentin running the point, and he will get better and better as he continues to see the floor.
When RaShid and Malcolm Bernard were asked after the game how realistic they felt their chances were to win the game after they realized they were down their two best players, they both answered, at the exact same time, “very realistic.” This is a team that has a “Next man up” mentality – a team that is fighting through adversity. There is nothing to do but compete, and there is another battle to be won on Wednesday night.