Tuesday night West Region No. 11 Ole Miss was able to advance into the Round of 64 with a 94-90 win over BYU, scoring 62 points in the second half of that game. Faced with a far more formidable opponent from a defensive standpoint on Thursday, the Rebels’ season came to an end with a 76-57 loss to No. 6 Xavier.
Chris Mack’s Musketeers knocked down ten three-pointers, and in the second half they shot 55.6 percent from the field to put away a game they grabbed control of in the latter stages of the first half. Matt Stainbrook controlled things in the post for Xavier, tallying 20 points, nine rebounds and five assists. and guard Dee Davis added 17 points to lead the way offensively. Stainbrook’s fingerprints were all over the game offensively, with his skill set proving to be too much for Ole Miss to handle.
However for as good as they were at time offensively, what was even more impressive for the Musketeers Thursday afternoon was their play on the defensive end.
Ole Miss shot jut 32.9 percent from the field, and while some of that could be attributed to fatigue as they expended a lot of energy in Dayton two nights ago, the biggest issue for Andy Kennedy’s team was that Xavier didn’t allow them to establish much of anything. Stefan Moody, who was outstanding against BYU, scored 14 points on 5-for-18 shooting and more often than not the Rebels resorted to attempting challenged jump shots.
Ole Miss attempted 17 more shots on the afternoon, and in addition to shooting 6-for-27 from three they only attempted five free throws (making three). By comparison, Xavier shot 10-for-23 from three and 14-for-21 from the foul line as they were able to get better shots on their end of the floor.
Next up for Xavier is Georgia State, which edged No. 3 Baylor on an R.J. Hunter three-pointer with 2.9 seconds remaining. In order to advance to the Sweet 16 the Musketeers will need to be efficient offensively while also clamping down on the other end, and they’re definitely capable of doing so.
Facing a Georgetown squad with just ten available scholarship players, Xavier seemed poised to get back on track after suffering their first Big East loss at Creighton on Sunday afternoon. But things didn’t work out that way in the game’s first 20 minutes, with the combination of Georgetown’s hot three-point shooting and Xavier’s lack of both effort and execution being the biggest factors.
The argument that a Georgetown team that entered the game shooting just 33% from beyond the arc wouldn’t duplicate its 63.6% first half could certainly be made, but that would only be the case if Chris Mack’s team showed greater effort defensively. And that’s exactly what happened, as the Musketeers outscored Georgetown 44-14 over the final 15 minutes to win 80-67 in Cincinnati.
What happened? Xavier got tougher on the defensive end, no longer allowing Georgetown to simply go through its movements with little or no resistance. As a team the Hoyas shot 37.5% in the second half and made just three three-pointers, with senior guard Markel Starks shooting 2-for-8 from the field. Also of note is the fact that the Hoyas committed twice as many turnovers in the second half (six) as they did in the first (three).
Offensively Xavier did a much better job of utilizing their balance (four players finished in double figures) and attacking after they spent much of the first half slowed down (and possibly even perplexed) by the Georgetown zone. Dee Davis scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half and Semaj Christon added ten (18 for the game) for the Musketeers, who shot 57.7% from the field in the second half and scored 1.55 points per possession.
Xavier’s improved execution allowed them to finally take advantage of Georgetown’s lack of depth, pulling away to win by a margin that can lead some to forget how difficult the first half was.
In regards to Xavier’s hopes of contending for the Big East title the win was a big one, as they’ll play five of their next seven league games away from the Cintas Center. Back in October the expectation was that Xavier would be an improved basketball team, but few thought them capable of being a contender in their new league. If they execute at the level they did over the final 15 minutes on Wednesday night, the Musketeers are capable of doing so.