When Dante Jackson stepped to the free throw line with 19 seconds left, the game was very much in the balance. Xavier was nursing a one-point lead, and the pride of Greenfield, OH was a less-than-sterling 1-10/1-8/0-0 shooting on the night. Much as his teammates had done all night, Dante executed from the line, and X hung on for an 81-76 victory in a hard-fought conference game.
It was a combination of little things that made the difference for Xavier tonight. They were excellent from the line as a team, going 25-29. Big Kenny went 6-8, McLean was 7-8, and Tu Holloway topped them both with an 8-8 night. They protected the ball, posting 15 assists and only 5 turnovers; Tu led the line in both categories here, as well, with 6 assists and 4 turnovers.
Coach Mack managed to get the starting troika of guards a grand total of nine minutes of rest between them without bringing a single guard off the bench. The Muskies went bigger, using Latham or Robinson off the bench at SF and switching from a three-guard lineup to a more traditional one. With all due respect to the efforts of Kevin Feeney, it's safe to say this team needs Jay Canty to return to game fitness as soon as possible.
The Muskies came into the game with a rebounding margin of +1.9 a game, good for 137th in the country, and today's -5 margin on the glass did nothing to help Xavier pass Louisiana-Lafayette, Eastern Illinois, or any of the other 134 teams ahead of them. X also had another poor showing from behind the arc, going 4-15 on the evening thanks in large part to Dante's 1-8. This pushes X's season 3P% down into the .307 range. While neither of these things or the problem mentioned in the previous paragraph necessarily means the Muskies are doomed to a disappointing March, "can't shoot from outside, can't rebound, no guard depth" isn't exactly the fingerprint of a team destined for a deep tournament run.
Odds and ends:
-Xavier shot 22-34 (.647) inside the arc and 25-29 (.862) from the line; three-point shooting continues to be a problem, as mentioned above.
-Mark Lyons led the team with six boards. His 8-6-3 on 3-5/0-1/2-3 with two steals and no turnovers is a hopeful sign that the young guard's approach is maturing.
-Xavier got 25 minutes off the bench, and the reserves chipped in 9-3-1 on 4-6/1-1/0-0 shooting. They also picked up eight fouls and turned it over once.
-Tu's 24-5-6 on 7-12/2-5/8-8 is pretty hard to ignore. Only his four turnovers sullied his otherwise brilliant game.
-Big Kenny had 20-5-0 on 7-9/0-0/6-8; he also added a steal and a block to his very efficient offensive performance.
Not so much:
-Dante contributed 5-0-4 on 1-10/1-8/2-2. His four assists and no turnovers helped offset his prodigal shooting performance.
-Dayton games are always tougher than they look on paper because of the intensity of the rivalry between these two programs. A big game from Tu and meaningful contributions from both Kenny and McLean seems to be the formula for success for Xavier going forward.
-Brad is back on the night shift, so I'm not sure if he's going to be able to get a recap up on here or not. That's why game balls were awarded in this column.
Next game: @ St Bonaventure, 7pm Wednesday.