“The wheels fell off,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said to the media following Xavier’s 77-73 opening-round overtime loss to No. 23 Iowa in the Battle 4 Atlantis.
While Mack’s foreshadowing quote after Thursday’s game was only referring to the first game of three the Musketeers would play at the Battle 4 Atlantis, his comments rang true for the remainder of the week after previously unbeaten Xavier entered the event 5-0 and left 5-3.
After dropping a heartbreaker to Iowa in which they never trailed in regulation and led by as much as 15 in the second half, Xavier fell flat in its next game against Tennessee, losing 64-49, even though they had beaten the Volunteers 17 days before by four points. USC ended the Musketeers’ miserable trip to the Bahamas with Saturday’s 84-78 win.
So what happened to Xavier at Battle 4 Atlantis?
A combination of things is likely the culprit, but, for Xavier, it starts with the play of sophomore guard Semaj Christon. Christon averaged 15.2 points per game last season and when he went down with leg cramps against Iowa, the Xavier offense struggled.
Christon has had leg cramps before, but as the AP story noted, Iowa’s Roy Devyn Marble went down with cramps in the same game as Christon, and it could have been the conditions at Battle 4 Atlantis that led to them.
Devyn Marble scored 30 points before leaving with a right leg cramp, a problem that affected Xavier standout Semaj Christon as well. The converted ballroom that serves as the arena for this event has a low ceiling, hot lights and it was packed with people seated not far from the floor. So yes, even indoors — and on a relatively cool day in the Bahamas — the elements were a factor.
Christon only had four points for Xavier in the Tennessee loss and it snapped a 25-game streak in which Christon had scored at least in double figures. The Tennessee loss also was a trap game for Xavier, since the Volunteers were looking for revenge and the Musketeers were still reeling from the Iowa loss the night before.
Tennessee outrebounded Xavier 41-29, held a 26-4 edge in second-chance points and overwhelmed the Musketeers in the rematch.
While Christon bounced back for 21 points against USC, Xavier trailed by as much as 23 in the second half before making a late charge to make the score more respectable.
It is certainly plenty early in the season, but this has to be a concerning trip for Xavier and head coach Chris Mack. The transition to the Big East happens for Xavier this season and the inconsistent play of the Musketeers is a concern going into conference play.