Guards transfer success to Xavier
Chris Mack needs to send Kelvin Sampson some sort of gift or, at the very least, a thank-you note.
If not for the former Indiana coach, the one forced out in Bloomington a couple of years ago for making an abundance of improper phone calls, Xavier wouldn’t have its starting backcourt.
And the Musketeers certainly wouldn’t be celebrating their third consecutive Sweet 16 appearance following Sunday afternoon’s 71-68 victory over No. 3 seed Pittsburgh.
Jordan Crawford transferred out after just one season with the Hoosiers in which he was a role guy, and Terrell Holloway got out of his letter of intent shortly after Sampson was let go.
"Yeah, I guess I should,” Mack said with a smile when asked if he had sent Sampson anything for indirectly sending him both players. "They’ve both been terrific.”
Holloway came right in and made an immediate impact last season, especially because fellow point guard Mark Lyons was academically ineligible. He started 13 games, averaged 5.5 points and was a steadying influence.
Crawford is a 6-foot-4 combo guard who averaged 9.7 points while primarily coming off the bench in a sixth-man role at Indiana as a freshman. When he and new coach Tom Crean decided it was best to part ways, Crawford’s first call was to Xavier — the school that had gone after him hard before his decision to play in the Big Ten.
Crawford sat out all of last season and once eligible this year, he wanted to make up for lost time. The two things he was known for was being former Kentucky guard Joe Crawford’s younger brother and being the player who dunked on LeBron James this past summer.
"I tried to show my teammates what I could do every single play,” Crawford said.
But the shots weren’t falling, and Crawford struggled early in the season after the lengthy layoff.
"It wasn’t any fault of his," Xavier guard Dante Jackson said. "He was just trying to do too much.
"It took him a little while to understand that here you don’t have to score 25 points every game. This program is built on defense and having three or four guys that all average about 12 to 15 points a game.”
Crawford began to understand and mature — and it’s resulted in one of the most dominant guards in the country.
He went for a game-high 27 points on Sunday afternoon to exact a measure of revenge against a Pittsburgh team that knocked the Musketeers out of the NCAA tournament a year ago in the Sweet 16.
Holloway, who entered the game averaging 11.7 points and 3.9 assists, added 13 points in the 71-68 victory that sent Xavier to its third consecutive Sweet 16 — a claim that only the Musketeers and Michigan State can make.
"Terrell makes big shots, and Jordan is our go-to guy,” Lyons said.
Jackson said the turning point for Crawford and the team may have been when Mack, in his first season after replacing Sean Miller, opted to bring him off the bench against Cincinnati back in December.
"It was nothing off the floor,” Mack said. "It was just for the betterment of the team. There were some things I wanted from Jordan defensively, and I wanted that level of accountability from him.”
"As soon as he did that, our team took off,” Jackson said of the decision. "I think he sent Jordan a message.”
Xavier lost two of its next four games — to Butler and Wake Forest — but Crawford started playing much better.
The Musketeers reeled off eight of their next nine.
"Jordan was trying to win games on every possession early in the year,” Xavier associate head coach Pat Kelsey said. "But he’s really matured and trusted his teammates as the season went along. Now, he realizes that when the ball leaves his fingers, it’ll come back to him.”
"He’s been a completely different player,” Jackson said.
It’s no shock Xavier has been a far more successful team.