Resilient Musketeers find themselves against Hoyas
CINCINNATI — Xavier was too cool for itself in the first half against Georgetown Wednesday night. In Chris Mack’s mind, that’s exactly why the Musketeers trailed the Hoyas by 13 points.
"You can’t cool your way in a game against Georgetown," said the Xavier coach. "Hey, you score, we get to score. All right, you score and we get to score. All of a sudden we didn’t get to score and then it became a problem."
Xavier was full of problems with 15 minutes remaining. Georgetown led by 17 points, 53-36, and had rebuked a 7-0 run by Xavier to open the second half with its own 11-0 surge. After making 7-of-11 3-pointers in the first half, Georgetown made three more out of four attempts to start the second half.
Something odd happened on the way to Georgetown’s blowout. Mainly it was Xavier’s defense. The Musketeers only allowed the Hoyas to attempt two shots from behind the arc the rest of the game (both of which missed) and held Georgetown scoreless the final 6:14 of play in turning that 17-point deficit into a 13-point victory, 80-67, in front of a sold out crowd of 10,250 at the Cintas Center.
"They made a run and they kept going. We couldn’t stop them," said Georgetown coach John Thompson III. "They started guarding us. We were getting shots in the first half."
It’s the largest come-from-behind victory of the season for Xavier and improves the Musketeers to 14-4 overall and 4-1 in the Big East. They previously trailed Evansville by 13 points and at Alabama by 12 points in the second half before rallying for victories but Evansville and Alabama aren’t Georgetown. This is a team that returned four starters from last season’s Big East regular season champions. The Hoyas were third in the league in scoring defense, allowing just 65.1 points per game, but Xavier outscored them 51-25 in the second half.
"We’ve got a resilient team," said senior forward Justin Martin. "That’s the story of Xavier. You never can count us out. We’ve always got a next-play mentality. We just never quit. It’s a resemblance of Coach Mack. He has the same attitude in practice every day. If he doesn’t like something we’ll keep going again."
Mack certainly didn’t like what he saw in the first half. As well as the Musketeers responded in the second half, it was troubling for him to see his team start off slow on the defensive end. In their previous two games against Marquette and Creighton, the Musketeers had allowed 25 3-pointers on 55 attempts. Tack on Georgetown’s 10-of-14 start and that’s 35 made shots from long range at better than 50 percent.
They had allowed only 84 3-pointers in their first 15 games.
"That’s not the team that we are," said senior forward Isaiah Philmore. "The first half we were totally lackadaisical and Coach Mack let us know that we needed to pick it up."
Four Xavier players scored in double figures. Sophomore guard Semaj Christon had a team-high 18 points despite sitting out 5:32 of the second half after picking up his fourth foul. Xavier trailed 61-56 when he left the game. The Musketeers led 72-67 when he returned.
"It’s a great feeling when I can go out or somebody goes out and we’ve got another teammate that can step in and take over and help us out," said Christon.
Junior guard Dee Davis had 17 points and seven assists. Philmore had 14 points and five rebounds. Martin scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Junior center Matt Stainbrook had a tough night offensively, scoring just seven points on 2-of-10 shooting but he had six assists and a game-high eight rebounds. Sophomore forward James Farr had nine points and six rebounds off the bench.
The win was Xavier’s 13th in a row at home, including 12 this season and it is 4-0 in the Big East at home. Creighton (5-0) and Villanova (4-0) are undefeated and ahead of Xavier in the league standings but the Musketeers are going to be challenged on the road. They play at DePaul and Providence next week and have seven of their next 10 games away from the Cintas Center.
"I was proud of our kids but we have to play better, longer and we have to be ready from the start," said Mack. "I don’t want to take away from what I thought was a great effort down the stretch from our kids but championship teams, really good teams, they don’t have lulls. They don’t sort of dip their toes in the pool to figure out what kind of game this will be. I thought we did that."
The Musketeers can’t afford to play "cool" anymore.