INDIANAPOLIS — Offense is seldom an issue with Xavier. Defense, on the other hand, is a perplexing concept for the Musketeers sometimes.
It was Saturday afternoon at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse, especially in the final 10 minutes of the game, and drew the ire of head coach Chris Mack in the process.
Butler outscored Xavier 32-21 over the final 9:42 to cruise to an 88-76 win over the Musketeers. It continues Xavier’s struggles away from the Cintas Center, where XU is undefeated in nine games. The Musketeers are just 2-5 away from campus, however, and there is common theme to those games from Mack’s point of view.
"In each of them in the second half, we just can’t get stops," said Mack, his disgust hard to hide. "And when a team finally decides to miss or does miss we can’t get a defensive rebound. It really doesn’t matter at this point what combination of guys we have on the floor. Our team has to grow up in many ways, and that’s not a dig at our freshmen because we’ve got some older guys that have to grow up."
It was just three days ago that Mack was praising the defensive play of his guys as they were the ones getting stops down the stretch in an 11-point victory over No. 19 Seton Hall.
That was a long three days ago.
"I probably shouldn’t be surprised because it’s been our Achilles heel, especially on the road," said Mack.
The 88 points were the most allowed by Xavier this season in regulation and just one point off the 89 scored by Auburn in a double-overtime loss on the road. The Bulldogs shot 64 percent from the field in the second half and converted 32 of the 42 free throws they attempted. Xavier had four players finish in double figures scoring, led by senior center Matt Stainbrook’s 21 points, which equaled a career high
Both teams are now 2-2 in the Big East. Butler is 12-5 overall. Xavier is 11-5 with a road game at No. 8 Villanova (15-1, 3-1) on the horizon next Wednesday.
"They were the tougher team. All credit goes to Butler," said junior forward James Farr. "It’s very frustrating. That’s what I take my pride in, rebounding. I didn’t have a strong rebounding game… We didn’t finish our job."
Butler led 34-31 at halftime. Each team had made nine field goals, each team made two 3-pointers but Butler had attempted and made three more free throws. The Bulldogs had a 17-14 advantage on the boards, including grabbing six offensive rebounds to just one for the Musketeers, which led to Butler outscoring Xavier 10-2 on second-chance points.
The second half began all right for Xavier. Andrew Chrabascz hit a 3-pointer to start the half for Butler and give the Bulldogs a 37-31 lead but the Musketeers scored the next six points on a 3-pointer by Dee Davis and a conventional 3-point play by Stainbrook. It was one of 15 times the game was tied.
Out of its first nine possessions in the second half, Butler scored four times, turned the ball over three times and twice came away empty after missing shots. Xavier had a 45-43 lead through those possessions.
The Bulldogs scored on 16 of their next 20 possessions.
Xavier trailed by just one point, 56-55, with 10:16 left when Remy Abell hit a 3-pointer but that’s as close as the Musketeers would get the rest of the way. Butler senior guard Alex Barlow, from Cincinnati’s Moeller High School, hit a 3-pointer to start Butler’s big surge. Kelan Martin hit another 3-pointer 30 seconds later.
The offensive onslaught didn’t stop. All five of Butler’s starters finished in double figures. Chrabascz led the way with 19 points. Barlow had 15 points and five rebounds. Senior forward Kameron Woods collected a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds. He had four of Butler’s 13 offensive rebounds. The Bulldogs outscored Xavier 21-11 overall on second-chance points.
"The only way I know (to change things) is to go to practice and continue to emphasize it through drills, show them on film where we’re coming up short, maybe play different guys," said Mack. "But if we’re going to win in this league, especially on the road, our team just has to grow up and get tougher. That’s as simple as I can put it."