By: Nick McGill
The Xavier men’s basketball team had a long trip home from the Bahamas after losing three straight games and earning a last place finish in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament on Paradise Island. Entering the tournament with high hopes and expectations, Xavier was first set to face off against the Iowa Hawkeyes on Thanksgiving Day. Iowa entered the tournament ranked as the No. 23 team in the country, giving Xavier its first look at a top 25 opponent. At the outset of the game the Musketeers jumped out to a fast start and entered the halftime break with a 37-30 lead. Xavier began the second half with another big run of 10-2, and at one point led by 15. Costly turnovers and sloppy play allowed Iowa to make a comeback run in the closing minutes of the game as the Musketeers watched their lead continue to shrink.
At the end of regulation Xavier still had the advantage and missed many opportunities to put the game away. Even after Iowa’s star player left the game with an injury , Xavier sophomore guard Semaj Christon began cramping up and only played 10 minutes in the second half. The Hawkeyes clawed all the way back to tie the game and force overtime. Iowa kept its strong momentum going after regulation, gaining an early advantage in overtime.
The 23rd ranked team in the country would not let the lead slip away. Iowa won the game 77-74 and went on to lose to Villanova in the championship game of the tournament.
The Musketeers had a quick turnaround after their disappointing opening loss, playing Tennessee early the next day. Although Xavier already owned a win against Tennessee, the Volunteers had no problem with holding the Musketeers at bay this time around and held a sizable lead for the entire game.
By the final buzzer, the Musketeers had lost their second straight by a score of 64-49. Xavier then faced another reputable opponent in the USC Trojans for their final game of the tournament. After falling to a 24-point deficit in the second half with 8:46 left to play, the Musketeers mounted a comeback using full court pressure and effective defense to force USC turnovers.
The Musketeers fought back to within five points with 22 seconds left led by Christon, junior center Matt Stainbrook and freshman guard Myles Davis. Unfortunately, it was too little too late for the Musketeers, and USC clung to an 83-78 victory, giving Xavier a last place finish in a field of 8 teams.
As a team Xavier struggled to take care of the ball, committing 51 turnovers while only recording 36 assists. Xavier’s strength in its first five victories was dominance on the glass, but the team failed to keep pace in Atlantis. In addition, the free throw shooting continued to be subpar and they gave up too many second chance points on the defensive end.
Key players for the Musketeers were Stainbrook, Christon and sophomore forward James Farr. Farr proved to be a dominant defensive presence for most of the tournament while hitting a couple of key 3-pointers in the games. Stainbrook is a big body that opponents need to pay attention to and provided efficient offensive production and hauled in key rebounds during the tournament.
Although Christon put points on the board, he struggled to hit key free throws and had trouble taking care of the ball. Christon is expected to be the leader on the team and provide an edge in pressure situations. Better play is needed from him in order to keep the Musketeers on a winning path