The men’s basketball team lost to Villanova 71-67 in overtime of the Big East Tournament semifinals after defeating Creighton 63-61 in the quarterfinals.
Creighton got out to a fast start against Xavier, with Ty-Shon Alexander propelling the Blue Jays to an early 22-13 lead. Xavier responded well, ending the half on a 23-7 run to take a 36-29 lead into halftime.
Xavier continued to build a lead at the start of the second, getting 12 points ahead after fewer than four minutes gone in the second half. Creighton fought back, eventually taking a 53-52 lead with 5:42 left in the game.
Graduate forward Zach Hankins made a tip-in with less than 30 seconds left, and graduate guard Kyle Castlin blocked Alexander’s three-point attempt in the closing seconds to seal Xavier’s 63-61 win.
Against Villanova the next night, the Wildcats started off well, leading for most of the first half. Paul Scruggs gave Xavier a 17-15 lead with 8:23 left in the first half. Xavier did not trail until overtime when Eric Paschall made a three to give Villanova a 63-60 lead with 4:06 remaining in the extra period.
Villanova led for the rest of the overtime period, and though Xavier remained within striking distance, it was unable to get over the hump and lost 71-67.
The loss ended Xavier’s chance of winning the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament and resulted in the Musketeers earning a No. 3 seed in the NIT. They are set to face the Toledo Rockets tonight at 7 p.m. at Cintas Center.
Here are some takeaways from last week.
Fundamentals: When looking at the whole season, the defense wasn’t great for a while. Throughout the last month or so, the defense has elevated itself to another level. The Musketeers were ranked nearly 200th in the country before and now sit just outside the top 100. The trend continued in New York as Xavier held both Creighton and Villanova below their season averages in field goal percentage, three-point percentage and points.
Xavier also did well taking care of the basketball, only turning it over nine times against Creighton and 13 against Villanova. It won the rebounding battle against both teams as well. Overall, the fundamentals of the team looked very strong and most likely contributed to my next takeaway.
The turnaround for this team was incredible: A little more than a month ago, even an NIT berth seemed like a long shot. The team was 11-13, 3-8 in conference and had just lost at home to DePaul by 12 points. The Musketeers weren’t favored or projected to win another game the rest of the season.
Clearly that isn’t what happened. The team flipped the script, and all the effort and energy that had been shown started paying off as wins. Xavier beat Creighton, Villanova and St. John’s at home. It also beat St. John’s, Providence and Seton Hall on the road. The road win against Providence was just Xavier’s second since entering the Big East.
According to barttorvik.com, Xavier has been playing like the 28th best team in the country since Feb. 13. Until that point, Xavier had been playing like the 103rd best team in the country. The turnaround was incredible, which leads into the next point.
The future is bright: Part of the issue for this team was adjusting to new roles. Everyone was being asked to do more than they had before.
This year’s team lost five professional players from last year’s team, the winningest coach in program history (Chris Mack) and two of his assistants. That’s a lot of turnover to deal with for any program.
There was also an identity switch that had to happen. Last year’s team had the eighth best offense in the country.
This year’s team was expected to be more defense-oriented. That shift took time to implement, but once it clicked, Xavier was a top 25 defensive team.
That’s encouraging moving forward in the NIT and next season, as the four main contributors who are returning will have minimal adjustments to their roles next year.
By: Luke Feliciano | Sports Editor