Xavier capped a long, long week with a long, long Sunday afternoon. Not having three of your top players will do that.
The Musketeers’ first game since their Dec. 10 brawl with Cincinnati was a lackluster 64-42 loss to Oral Roberts, their worst home defeat in more than a decade. It wasn’t just one thing, either. Just about everything failed Xavier. They couldn’t shoot (32 percent), couldn’t hold onto the ball (17 turnovers) and couldn’t guard.
Perhaps worst of all? It was Xavier’s first loss of the season. That’s a game to forget.
“We just weren’t ourselves today on both offense and defense,” coach Chris Mack said.
“It’s disappointing. From tough times, tough people last, and we certainly have to get better and improve. Some of the reserves on our team didn’t play particularly well, and I didn’t coach particularly well.”
Xavier (8-1) was without starting guard Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons, as well as freshman Dezmine Wells, three players who account for 45 points a game, take 40 percent of the team’s shots and basically ensure the team’s offense runs. (They’re obviously a monster part of the defense, too.)
Without them, everything falls apart. And this was with a week to prepare for a game without Holloway, who’ll return for Thursday’s game against Long Beach State. (Lyons will return after that; Wells will miss three more games.)
Oral Roberts (8-4) isn’t terrible, but this should create some concern about Xavier’s potential in March. If it’s this reliant on those three players, what happens when it faces the likes of Syracuse, Kentucky or North Carolina.
That’s sticking with the Musketeers, too.
“A lot of things broke down,” center Kenny Frease said. “It wasn’t just one thing that they did better than us.”
The LBSU matchup will be another stern test, even with Holloway back (losing Lyons to guard Casper Ware is a biggie). That’s the opener of the Diamond Head Classic, which could also pit Xavier against Kansas State, Auburn or Clemson. Then there’s a Dec. 31 showdown against Gonzaga. Coming away from that slate with no losses would be a feat.
Best-case scenario is that the Oral Roberts game provides Xavier with ample motivation for the rest of the season. At worst, it’s a sign of things to come when tough foes come along.
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