Opinion: Relax, Xavier fans

By: Paul Fritschner ~Staff Writer~

Photo courtesy of local12.com | There are still games to play, but the Musketeers must show improvement quickly.

Last Thursday night, after commiserating for about an hour after the heart-wrenching performance that had just been witnessed, I found myself needing some sustenance and decided on Currito. As I opened the door, the first words I heard were “life goes on” from the legendary song “Jack and Diane” by John Mellencamp. That caused me to stop, think and reflect on both the game and the season as a whole. First, let’s take a look at this game.

Xavier (15-6, 5-3) has dominated the Crosstown Shootout recently, winning the last three in a row, seven of the last nine, and 10 of the last 14 before yesterday’s game. But as someone in the Cincinnati media mentioned, if there was ever a game the Bearcats were going to win, it was Thursday’s. They had the mojo and the moxie, they had the home court advantage, they even had the higher ranked team for whatever that’s worth, and all of those parts seemed to add up to solve the equation for a victory over the Musketeers. Yet in a game like that, you never know what kind of wild card is going to get thrown your way. Trevon is looked at as the team’s best player, but the other-worldly night from one of Xavier’s standouts was the wild card Xavier needed.

Bluiett had no intentions of succumbing to the “isn’t clutch” or “doesn’t perform in big games” narratives. He only had five points total over the course of his first two Shootouts, but that is a moot point after the incredible spectacle of athletic achievement that was on display at Fifth Third Arena.

With 11:39 to go in the first half, Bluiett caught a pass from Quentin Goodin and flicked the ball toward the rim with little effort. Adam Amin, the play-by-play man for the game, was relatively calm as the first of many threes found the bottom of the net. Little did he know what he was about to witness. Bluiett would proceed to hit nine threes, tying a Xavier record and scoring the most points (40) since David West was a Musketeer.

Even after Bluiett threw down the gauntlet and single-handily battled the Bearcats while some Musketeers seemed to have their heads elsewhere, his 40 points were not enough. Cincinnati (19- 2, 8-0) was brutal on the boards, out-toughing Xavier en route to a 30-3 edge in second chance points. When you give up 19 offensive rebounds and surrender that many second chance points, it’s going to be an incredible task to emerge victorious. James Farr, who took so much pride in his ability to win battles on the glass during his time at Xavier, had this to say in a tweet: “We deserved to lose.. all of the offensive rebounds and 2nd chance points X gave up.. No way you can win like that at UC.”

At least one positive to take away from this besides Bluiett was the performance by the freshmen Quentin Goodin and Tyrique Jones. Goodin played 15 solid minutes and had seven points to go along with six assists, while Jones saw 12 minutes of action and used that time to score six points (4-5 from the line), grab five rebounds and hand out an assist.

In the waning moments of the game, it became increasingly obvious that Xavier would not earn a four-peat. Tim Stainbrook would not become the first Musketeer to go 4-0 against Cincinnati. With about a minute to go, Bearcats’ senior Troy Caupain hit a three to seal his first win against Xavier, and after the game he said, “I’m so excited. I’m ready to jump out of my chair. For real.”

So where does this team stand? The Twitter universe was quick to point out that Xavier’s best win so far is a neutral court victory against Clemson back in November. The X-men have played an incredibly difficult schedule, but they haven’t exactly taken advantage of it. They have yet to beat a ranked team, and the opportunity for a significant road win is beginning to fall out of their grasp.

This season is far from over. There’s 10 games left, including matchups against Villanova, Creighton and Butler as well as two games each against Seton Hall and Marquette. Some people are starting to freak out, especially now with the recent loss of Edmond Sumner for the season. However, there are positive signs.

I watched the Crosstown Shootout in the Gallagher Student Center, the same place I witnessed Bronson Koenig shove a dagger into the hearts of the Xavier faithful. This time, many of the same emotions were experienced — joy from leading for so much of the game and just plain heartbreak after the final buzzer. It was like a horrible scene of deja vu watching students collect their things and trudge up those steps — heads down, sulking, sad that their team had lost for the fourth time in five games.

All season long I have preached optimism and positivity, that as of yet there was no reason for the gloom and doom sentiments. It is only natural for those feelings to have taken hold with only 10 games remaining in the regular season, and it is beyond fair to have some serious concerns about the state of this team.

I, too, wasn’t feeling too cheery as I trudged up the steps and back to my dorm. The feeling was as if the season had ended, but it hasn’t. This was not a loss in March, when it matters and when there is no next game. This was a loss in January to a good team. We are still trending toward the apex of the season. We have not nearly hit it yet and begun a decline.

This season may not be what many were hoping after the heights the program reached last year. There were enormous expectations, and anything less would seemingly be a disappointment. Edmond has a torn ACL and is out for the year. Myles is gone, and the team already has one more loss than it had all of the 2015-2016 season.

Yet, there’s still time left to collect and make something of this year in classic Xavier fashion. The Shootout was an uppercut punch, not a knockout blow. The season, just like life, goes on. It is not near its completion.