Xavier needs, gets savvy Dee Davis in win over Providence
CINCINNATI -- Dee Davis was used to scoring when he arrived at Xavier four years ago. He was a two-time all-state selection at Bloomington South High School, twice helping his team to Indiana's 4A state title, including his senior season when he averaged 21.6 points a game.
"Coming from high school I had a lot of freedom," said Davis Saturday afternoon in the hallways of the Cintas Center. "Over the years here coach (Chris) Mack has been hammering it to me to be the consummate point guard, the pass-first point guard."
Davis has gotten that role down pretty well. He was at his pass-first best Saturday when the Musketeers needed him to be.
Davis equaled a career high with 15 assists as Xavier rallied from a six-point deficit at halftime to beat Providence, 78-69, at home before a sold-out crowd of 10,250. Davis scored just four points and didn't make either of the two field goal attempts but that didn't matter. His primary job on this team isn't to score. It's to make sure he's putting his teammates in the best possible position so they can.
Xavier has plenty of options when it comes to scoring. They survived leading scorer Matt Stainbrook not scoring for the first time in his two seasons with XU. No one else on the team can set things up like Davis.
"I think Dee Davis is one of the best point guards in the league as far as being able to run his team," said Providence associate head coach Andre LaFleur.
Davis' 15 assists are second all-time for a single game in Xavier history. Keith Walker had 18 against Detroit in 1980. Davis is the only player in school history to have as many as 15 assists in two games.
His final assist was a purposeful bounce off the backboard on a fastbreak. He could have easily enough put the ball in himself, but what fun would that be? Especially with sophomore Jalen Reynolds trailing close behind.
"There were a couple of times that Jalen was trailing the play in the game and he let me know," said Davis. "The last one was a clear two-on-one and I knew he was going to call for it so I didn't even think twice about throwing it off the glass to him. He's worked so hard he might as well get one off the glass."
Reynolds slammed home his 18th and 19th points with 39 seconds left, bringing the home crowd roaring to its collective feet.
"Hell yeah, that was exciting," said Mack, who had no reservations about the play. "How frickin' awesome? Throw it up there big fella. Now, if you miss that thing you're running tomorrow."
Davis played behind Tu Holloway as a freshman when Holloway led the team with a 17.5 scoring average. Davis played in 35 games but his role was to learn. The point guard spot was his beginning his sophomore season, and he's gradually grown into the role that Mack has envisioned for him, the role that best suits this team. Davis had a 1.32 assist-to-turnover ratio. Last season that improved to 2.4. He's up to 2.78 this season and his 150 assists have already surpassed his total of 149 from last season.
He can score when needed. He's averaging 9.0 points per game and has nine double-digit games this season. It's not what he does best. It's not what Xavier needs him to do most of all.
"We need his toughness level on the defensive end. We need his IQ level to get us in certain spots offensively, and we need him to emerge as a senior who doesn't want to go out," said Mack. "Dee saw what Tu and Mark (Lyons) did. He saw and experienced being behind those guys but that doesn't mean he has to assume their role. We have some other players who can make shots. We have one of the best front courts in the Big East. We have to know what feeds our machine and Dee is starting to get that."
When the Musketeers beat Georgetown 12 days ago it was a win that looked like it could provide a springboard for the rest of the season. It was their first road win in the Big East and it was their second of the season against the Hoyas, who were nationally ranked both times. They failed to capitalize on that momentum, following up that win by losing at Seton Hall and then giving an uninspired performance in suffering their first home loss of the season Wednesday night in overtime against Creighton.
Xavier had trailed by 10 points at one time or another in the first half of six of their previous seven games, including the last three home games, but had energy and focus from the get-go Saturday. Providence's 40-34 lead at halftime was the largest by either team in a first half that was tied six times and had 20 lead changes.
The lead changed hands just once in the second half. Once Trevon Bluiett hit a 3-pointer with three minutes gone in the second half, Xavier never again trailed. Davis had three assists in Xavier's 16-4 run over the first 4:28 of the second half. He had 10 of his assists in the second half.
Xavier's lead was just five points, 74-69, when Myles Davis turned the ball over attempting to make a move in the lane. Dunn came out with the ball and was headed to the basket, with only Dee Davis blocking his path and making it a one-possession game. Dunn, the reigning Big East conference player of the week, has had seven 20-point games this season. He had 20 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists against Xavier when the Friars won 69-66 in overtime in Rhode Island on Jan. 22.
Davis picked Dunn clean.
"Chris Dunn, he's unstoppable on the break," said Mack. "With all the pro hops and Euro steps and the ability to put a guy on his shoulder. For Dee to take his ball on a one-on-one break, incredible anticipation. Great toughness. A savvy play by Dee."
In his four seasons at Xavier, Davis has gone from a high school scorer with freedom to a savvy player. It's exactly what the Musketeers need.