Slump over, Xavier starting to have fun again
Xavier coach Chris Mack tried hard to maintain his composure, even as he calmly addressed the myriad questions pertaining to his team's recent slide. But following a stunning 10-point loss at La Salle, the Musketeers' fifth defeat in six games, Mack had seen enough. He banished his players to the team bus following the game and called the performance, particularly on offense, "pathetic."
The contrast was staggering. During its eight-game win streak to begin the season, Xavier allowed 61.1 points per game, held opponents to 34.9 percent shooting, including just 23.6 percent from 3-point range, and outrebounded teams by 6.3 boards per game.
But while losing five of six games, Xavier gave up 74.2 points per game. Opponents shot 43.7 percent overall, 34.2 percent from 3-point range, and outrebounded the Musketeers. Of course, within that six-game stretch, Tu Holloway was suspended one game, Mark Lyons two and Dezmine Wells four for their roles in the brawl with crosstown Cincinnati on Dec. 10.
During a 67-59 win at Fordham on Jan. 7, the Musketeers played an inspired 40 minutes with just a few lapses. Their defensive intensity was more indicative of the team that had been ranked as high as eighth in the national polls.
"We're getting it back, but it's not going to happen overnight," Lyons said. "We took a couple tough blows, but we're not out of it. Nobody's pointing a finger at anybody. We're just trying to get better."
A lot about the Jan. 7 win appeared familiar, especially Xavier's effort on defense and its moxie in deflecting several Fordham rallies. Forward Andre Walker said he and his teammates were having fun on the court, perhaps for the first time since the fight with Cincinnati erupted with 9.4 seconds left in the game.
"I talked to Tu (Holloway) about how we weren't having fun out there like we used to," Walker said. "We just made it a point that we were going to stick together and just be all in. We were having fun out there. It felt like how it used to feel for us."
Mack returns next day after knee surgery
--Xavier coach Chris Mack tore the patellar tendon in his left knee during practice Jan. 6. Mack, who injured himself while attempting a dunk during a team-building exercise, was on crutches prior to the Jan. 7 game at Fordham. He coached the game but spent most of the time seated. Mack underwent surgery Jan. 8 but was back at practice the next day.
--Assistant coach Kareem Richardson has rejoined the coaching staff following lung surgery. During Richardson's absence, former Xavier grad and NBA standout Aaron Williams served as a temporary assistant coach. Williams scored 1,073 points in his Xavier career, then played for nine NBA teams before retiring in 2007.
BY THE NUMBERS: 0 -- Points Tu Holloway scored in the Jan. 7 win at Fordham. He was 0-for-3 from the field but had five assists. It was the first time Holloway had gone scoreless since a loss at Charlotte on Feb. 26, 2009.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "My message to my kids was Xavier's always been known for being a tough, nasty team on the defensive end, period. And on the offensive end, a team that attacks, that plays fearless and with a lot of confidence. We're going to get back to that." -- Coach Chris Mack, after Xavier lost five of six games before beating Fordham.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--vs. Duquesne, Jan. 11
KEY MATCHUPS: Duquesne has balance with four players averaging in double-figures through 16 games, led by junior G Sean Johnson, who's coming off a team-leading 17 points in a win over St. Bonaventure. Johnson has been the Dukes' leading scorer in seven games this season. The Muskies also will need to contend with B.J. Monteiro, the team's second-leading scorer and top rebounder.
--vs. St. Bonaventure, Jan. 14
KEY MATCHUPS: Xavier is familiar with Andrew Nicholson, who has played well against the Musketeers during his career. Demitrius Conger joins Nicholson as the only Bonnies who were averaging in double figures through Jan. 8. St. Bonaventure will need to shoot well to win, so Xavier needs to keep an eye on Matthew Wright, the Bonnies' top 3-point threat.
FUTURES MARKET: Brad Redford's improvement in defense and ball-handling has allowed coach Chris Mack to keep the junior sharpshooter on the court for more extended periods. Redford was considered among the top 3-point shooters in the nation prior to a knee injury that caused him to miss all of last season. He was showing signs of regaining his stroke, as evidenced by his two 3-pointers in the Fordham win, the first time he'd hit two 3s since Nov. 25 against Georgia.
--Graduate student Andre Walker, a transfer from Vanderbilt, matched a career high with 14 rebounds against Fordham. Walker also helped limit the Rams' leading scorer, Chris Gaston, to 10 points. He played 84 games, including 40 starts, for the Commodores from 2007-08 through 2010-11. He will have just one season of eligibility at Xavier.
--Freshman G Dezmine Wells and sophomore walk-on Landen Amos were reinstated for the Dec. 31 game vs. Gonzaga after serving four-game suspensions for their roles in a brawl with crosstown rival Cincinnati on Dec. 10.
--Former Xavier G Dante Jackson is a graduate assistant coach at Ohio University. Jackson is pursuing a master's degree in coaching education.