This game served to expose some of the weak points of Xavier's squad. Against a Florida team whose strengths mirrored those of the Muskies coming into the game, X played just poorly enough to lose and end a 30-game home winning streak in the process.
Tu Holloway came to play early, scoring seven of Xavier's first eleven points. Dante chipped in five of the first thirteen, but Lyons started extremely slowly. In a pattern that would play out for most of the game, Florida would look to extend the lead, only to have Holloway and/or Frease do most of the heavy lifting to keep X in it.
Xavier's interior defense was frankly disappointing for most of the game, especially early. Screens were freeing up Gators inside, and the defense was only recovering to the first man with the ball. Several post-to-post passes led to easy buckets for Florida as Xavier's defense was too inattentive or too slow to rotate. Tyus and Macklin combined for 18 of Florida's 31 first-half points, most of them on the inside.
Dante opened the second half with a three-pointer and Tyus and Frease exchanged buckets to make the score 33-32. From there, Florida buried the game with a 17-3 run that spanned over six minutes. To the Muskies' credit, there was no quit in the team, even down 50-35. Brief Xavier runs that closed the game to 11 and 10, respectively, were each ended by extremely deep threes from Erving Walker. It's hard to fault the Xavier defense on either of those (or the moon shot he hit earlier in the half); if a guy is going to bury 26-footers on you, it's hard to stop that.
Down 13 with 4:32 left, Xavier began mounting their first serious run at the lead. Cheek scored his first bucket of the game, McLean converted a three-point play, and Dante held his nerve to bury a three ball from the corner after head faking Chandler Parsons into the third row. A couple of buckets from Tu bracketed three free throws from Walker as Xavier turned up the defensive pressure and cut the lead to four.
A travel on 17-year-old Florida freshman Scottie Wilbekin gave Xavier the ball under their own bucket, down four, with a minute left. Tu tossed the inbounds pass over Lyons' man to give Cheek a four-foot bunny to cut the lead to two. He summed up his entire night by missing the shot, and Xavier - despite five last-minute points from Holloway and a deep three from crowd favorite Kevin Feeney - never challenged for the game again. The final was 71-67 in Florida's favor.
Keys to the game:
-Xavier actually outperformed Florida on the offensive glass, 12-11, though Florida did tally 38 rebounds to Xavier's 30 on the night. Xavier won the turnover battle as well, giving the ball up 8 times to Florida's 16. We also managed to stay out of foul trouble until late, when we were trying to put Florida on the line.
-Xavier had only 12 assists on the night, which was symptomatic of a huge stagnation issue on the offensive end. For long stretches of the game, Xavier wasted the first 20 seconds of the shot clock backing the ball out to the half line and looking clueless. When the post was denied or pressured hard, the Muskies spent a lot of time standing around on offense. This is a problem that Coach Mack and the staff need to address as soon as possible.
-Tu and Big Kenny. Holloway had 26-2-6 on 9-18 from the floor, 2-5 from three, and 6-7 from the line with 2 turnovers. Kenny had 16-7-0 on 7-11 from the floor and 2-4 from the line and looked like a legitimate threat on the offensive end for long stretches of the game.
Not so much:
-Cheek Lyons. 2-2-2 on 1-11 from the floor and 0-2 from behind the arc with 2 turnovers and 5 fouls isn't going to get it done. At his best, Lyons can light up the scoreboard as a volume shooter; at his worst, poor decision-making and lack of game awareness make him a liability.
-This is pretty much what one might expect from a game with a winnability of 3. A bad night from Lyons, a horrible six-minute stretch in the second half, and a grand total of 6 points in 28 minutes from regular bench players sunk the Muskies. Knocking of Florida would have looked nice come March; Xavier is going to need a very strong showing from this point forward to impress the tournament committee.
Next game: Crosstown Shootout.