Xavier: “I guess I got my swagger back”. Truth?


CINCINNATI, OH – No team in the country has faced more scrutiny over the last month than Xavier has, and its all due to 9.4 seconds that everyone in Cincinnati wishes they could take back.

The Crosstown Punchout.

While the Bearcats used the fallout from the Brawl Seen ‘Round the World to discover that they were able to effectively play small-ball, Xavier struggled. Despite having their full roster available after just four games — and their talented back court back in the fold after just two — the Musketeers entered Atlantic 10 play having lost four of five and promptly dropped their league opener to La Salle in ugly fashion, needing a late rally to make the final score look closer than the game was.

They followed that up with a closer-than-it-should-have-been win over Fordham, which begged the question — what’s wrong with Xavier?

The answer was beautifully simple: the Musketeers lost their swagger.

As cliche as that sounds, its the truth. Xavier is a team built on toughness. They rely on their ability to make things difficult for their opponents on the defensive end of the floor and the confidence of Mark Lyons and Tu Holloway to use their immense ability to create scoring chances, either for themselves or for their teammates.

“We lost our swagger, our toughness, the confidence we had,” Tu Holloway told me after Xavier’s dominating 78-50 win over Duquesne at the Cintas Center. “We were worried about the referees calling games tough on us and things like that. It was in our heads, as much as I stay away from reading blogs and I don’t read my twitter, but its in your head. You hear people saying things, you even got your own family calling you asking you what’s going on so its tough.”

Winning is contagious, but losing is as well. Xavier dropped a couple of games in Maui and all of a sudden the aura of invincibility that surrounded that program this season was gone. Remember, this is the team that came back from 10 down at Vanderbilt and won. They erased a 19 point deficit against Purdue in the final 10 minutes. They won at Butler and absolutely destroyed Cincinnati.

But once the losses started piling up, a seed of doubt started creeping. Instead of believing that, regardless of the predicament that they found themselves in, they would win, Xavier’s mindset became that of the pre-2004 Boston Red Sox — how are we going to blow this one? What’s going to happen that costs us a win this time?

After Wednesday night’s performance, is it time for Xavier to start quoting Jay-Z: “I guess I got my swagger back“?

It may be too early to say.

But as far as Xavier is concerned, who they were in December is irrelevant.

“I’m not going to sit there and try to compare and contrast. We’re getting better,” Xavier head coach Chris Mack said. “I think we’ve taken a step forward these last couple of games. Guys are playing with renewed energy. We’re sharing the ball better than we did the first eight games. Who cares about comparisons? We’ve gotta worry about St. Bonaventure on Saturday.”

At this point, the past isn’t where Xavier’s focus lies, its the process. Its about taking the next step and building on the small successes that come out of every game.

That process?

It started on December 11th, the day after the fight.

“The first step was after that day,” Holloway said. “Every day has been a process of healing and getting back. The steps was when we started A-10 play.”

“Every game is a step from here on out.”

On Saturday at Fordham, the step that Xavier took was simply getting a win under their belt, proving to themselves that they weren’t the team that lost five of six games. The same way that a shooter tries to get to the foul line when he’s struggling because seeing the ball go through the hoop can flip that switch, Xavier simply needed to get one in the win column.

“That felt good. We needed that,” Lyons said after the win on Saturday. Mack followed that up by saying “it feels good to win. Mark hit the nail on the head.”

Wednesday was the next step. Xavier’s defense was impenetrable in the first half, as they held the Dukes to just 16 points on 6-23 shooting from the field while forcing seven turnovers. It wasn’t until Sean Johnson scored Duquesne’s 16th point on a backdoor layup with 1:45 left in the half that Xavier actually gave up a clean look at the rim. TJ McConnell, Duquesne’s star point guard, was completely shut down as Holloway held him to just four points and four assists.

It was more than just an individual performance, however. Xavier was finally focused and communicating on defense again.

“We were just more locked in and focused,” Andre Walker said. “We always know what we’re supposed to do but our minds wander. Tonight we made a concerted effort that we were going to be in the gaps and talking.”

“You just feel more confident when you’re guarding somebody and you hear tour teammate say they got your help. … It was just good to be out there with these guys and hearing everybody talk.”

Mack agreed.

“We need to be a disciplined team, one that pays attention to detail,” he said. “Anybody can see it on film, but being able to get your kids to execute is a different thing. I think we learned from the La Salle game and early on we got some stops to give our kids confidence we were doing it the right way.”

“Early on in the year, we defended that way and you saw the results. I think we took another step forward tonight to being that team.”

The other area that Xavier improved on Wednesday was in their front court. The Musketeer’s have a big, athletic front line and will rarely be at a size disadvantage when they step on the floor. The problem is that they have struggled capitalizing on that size advantage.

Duquesne isn’t a big team by any stretch of the imagination, but Xavier didn’t give the Dukes a chance. Kenny Frease and Jeff Robinson played as well as they have all season long, finishing with a combined 23 points and 12 boards, nine of which came on the offensive end of the floor, while shooting 9-11 from the field. The majority of that damage came early in the first half as Xavier asserted complete control over the game.

Think about this: for a team whose talent centers around their back court, Xavier finished with 54 of their 78 points in the paint.

And while that number is impressive, it all comes back to the play of Holloway and Lyons.

“It was all set by our guards being able to get into the lane,” Mack said. “Our guards are as good as anybody in the country when they are able to get into the lane and create help-up situations and drive and kick situations, times where box outs are out of position.”

Contrary to popular belief, Holloway is not the most talented player on this team. Lyons is. He’s a better shooter, he’s a better slasher and he’s more athletic. But Holloway is their most important, and he is at his best when the role he plays is as the facilitator offensively. He’s also the best perimeter defender that Mack has at his disposal.

Its no coincidence that on the night that Holloway has 11 assists, one turnover and completely shuts down the opponent’s star guard, Xavier has their most impressive performance since the brawl.

“It starts with defense for us,” Holloway said. “Its not about us scoring 70-some points the way we did tonight, its about stopping guys and being able to get runs.”

As good as the Musketeers looked tonight, beating Duquesne by 28 won’t define their season.

Its just another step in the right direction.

“We’re still on a long process getting back to where we were,” Holloway said. “Hopefully we can get back to that point.”

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Biden celebrates LSU women’s and UConn men’s basketball teams at separate White House events


WASHINGTON – All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs and lavish praise all around.

The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens heralded the players for their performance and the way they have helped advance women’s sports.

“Folks, we witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It matters.”

The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in and coach Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.

LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseous and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits, and will undergo further evaluation once back in Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times more female athletes in college and high school. He said most sports stories are still about men, and that that needs to change.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities.

“Folks, we need to support women sports, not just during the championship run but during the entire year,” President Biden said.

After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she caused an uproar by suggesting that the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.

LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. The LSU team largely is Black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.

Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese ultimately said she would not skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number “46” to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.

Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”

“In this room, I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”

“Every basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” the first lady added, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We’ve made so much progress and we still have so much more work to do.”

The president added that “the way in which women’s sports has come along is just incredible. It’s really neat to see, since I’ve got four granddaughters.”

After Smith was helped to a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience the player was OK.

“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of, right now, embarrassed.”

A few members of Congress and Biden aides past and present with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the thick of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to stave off what would be a globally calamitous U.S. financial default if the U.S. can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.

The president, who wore a necktie in the shade of LSU’s purple, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves, one of the House GOP negotiators, also attended.

Biden closed sports Friday by changing to a blue tie and welcoming the UConn’s men’s championship team for its own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.

“Congratulations to the whole UConn nation,” he said.

Marquette’s Prosper says he will stay in draft rather than returning to school

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MILWAUKEE — Olivier-Maxence Prosper announced he is keeping his name under NBA draft consideration rather than returning to Marquette.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decision.

“Thank you Marquette nation, my coaches, my teammates and support staff for embracing me from day one,” Prosper said in an Instagram post. “My time at Marquette has been incredible. With that being said, I will remain in the 2023 NBA Draft. I’m excited for what comes next. On to the next chapter…”

Prosper had announced last month he was entering the draft. He still could have returned to school and maintained his college eligibility by withdrawing from the draft by May 31. Prosper’s announcement indicates he instead is going ahead with his plans to turn pro.

Prosper averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds last season while helping Marquette go 29-7 and win the Big East’s regular-season and tournament titles. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

He played two seasons at Marquette after transferring from Clemson, where he spent one season.

Kansas’ Kevin McCullar Jr. returning for last season of eligibility

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Kevin McCullar Jr. said that he will return to Kansas for his final year of eligibility, likely rounding out a roster that could make the Jayhawks the preseason No. 1 next season.

McCullar transferred from Texas Tech to Kansas for last season, when he started 33 of 34 games and averaged 10.7 points and 7.0 rebounds. He was also among the nation’s leaders in steals, and along with being selected to the Big 12’s all-defensive team, the 6-foot-6 forward was a semifinalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award.

“To be able to play in front of the best fans in the country; to play for the best coach in the nation, I truly believe we have the pieces to hang another banner in the Phog,” McCullar said in announcing his return.

Along with McCullar, the Jayhawks return starters Dajuan Harris Jr. and K.J. Adams from a team that went 28–8, won the Big 12 regular-season title and was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where it lost to Arkansas in the second round.

Perhaps more importantly, the Jayhawks landed Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson, widely considered the best player in the portal, to anchor a lineup that was missing a true big man. They also grabbed former five-star prospect Arterio Morris, who left Texas, and Towson’s Nick Timberlake, who emerged last season as one of the best 3-point shooters in the country.

The Jayhawks also have an elite recruiting class arriving that is headlined by five-star recruit Elmarko Jackson.

McCullar declared for the draft but, after getting feedback from scouts, decided to return. He was a redshirt senior last season, but he has another year of eligibility because part of his career was played during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a big day for Kansas basketball,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “Kevin is not only a terrific player but a terrific teammate. He fit in so well in year one and we’re excited about what he’ll do with our program from a leadership standpoint.”

Clemson leading scorer Hall withdraws from NBA draft, returns to Tigers

clemson pj hall
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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson leading scorer PJ Hall is returning to college after withdrawing from the NBA draft on Thursday.

The 6-foot-10 forward took part in the NBA combine and posted his decision to put off the pros on social media.

Hall led the Tigers with 15.3 points per game this past season. He also led the Tigers with 37 blocks, along with 5.7 rebounds. Hall helped Clemson finish third in the Atlantic Coast Conference while posting a program-record 14 league wins.

Clemson coach Brad Brownell said Hall gained experience from going through the NBA’s combine that will help the team next season. “I’m counting on him and others to help lead a very talented group,” he said.

Hall was named to the all-ACC third team last season as the Tigers went 23-10.

George Washington adopts new name ‘Revolutionaries’ to replace ‘Colonials’

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WASHINGTON — George Washington University’s sports teams will now be known as the Revolutionaries, the school announced.

Revolutionaries replaces Colonials, which had been GW’s name since 1926. Officials made the decision last year to drop the old name after determining it no longer unified the community.

GW said 8,000 different names were suggested and 47,000 points of feedback made during the 12-month process. Revolutionaries won out over the other final choices of Ambassadors, Blue Fog and Sentinels.

“I am very grateful for the active engagement of our community throughout the development of the new moniker,” president Mark S. Wrighton said. “This process was truly driven by our students, faculty, staff and alumni, and the result is a moniker that broadly reflects our community – and our distinguished and distinguishable GW spirit.”

George the mascot will stay and a new logo developed soon for the Revolutionaries name that takes effect for the 2023-24 school year. The university is part of the Atlantic 10 Conference.