Travis Steele wanted his team to play the Xavier brand of basketball.
To address the team’s three-game losing skid, the second-year head coach challenged every player to earn their minutes in practice.
He created a wide open competition for the right to a starting spot Wednesday night against Georgetown, and the test produced minor tweaks to the regular starting lineup.
With a re-invigorated demeanor, the Musketeers were in full throttle mode and didn’t have much trouble taking care of the Hoyas, 66-57 for the team’s second Big East win of the year.
“We just stuck with coach’s plan,” senior forward Tyrique Jones, who had 10 points and 13 rebounds said. “It was a good thing we had a week off … we got good exercise, our guys just locked in on defense. We got a result we wanted.”
Senior point guard Quentin Goodin, who is typically a starter, was unavailable as a result of a minor knee injury sustained in warmups, Steele said after the game.
Freshman Kyky Tandy continued to display his value shooting from distance while notching a career-high 18 points. Using a quick trigger, KyKy Tandy accounted for four of Xavier’s eight total 3-pointers alongside junior forward Naji Marshall (3) and junior guard Paul Scruggs (1).
“I just want to say that my coaches and my teammates give me confidence to play my game,” Tandy said. “Q (Quentin Goodin) also said to step up and that’s what I did.”
“Beautiful,” Marshall added with a smile. “KyKy be barbequing in practice, so to see him do it in a game against somebody else, it feels lucky … I’m proud of him.”
Yet another freshman, forward Zach Freemantle, received the opportunity for his first career start. He finished with seven total rebounds, including four offensive boards, to go along with a gritty performance on both ends of the floor.
“He’s being thrown into the fire,” said. “Zach’s a tremendous player. His teammates have a ton of confidence in him (and) he earns that every single day in practice. He plays to win.”
Opting for a bigger starting five – one guard, a wing and three forwards – Xavier took advantage of its size on the inside. The Musketeers also forced Georgetown’s center and leading point scorer Omer Yurtseven into foul trouble.
“It worked,” Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing said about Xavier’s size. “It threw my guys off balance. Instead of using our speed and quickness to our advantage, we let them (Xavier) use their size to their advantage … It was obvious that their size, they used it to their advantage.”
The size factor also reaped its own benefits on the defensive end of the floor. Xavier put the pressure on Georgetown and forced the Hoyas to take low-percentage shots.
“That’s what we want,” Steele said about forcing tough shots. “We don’t want to give up layups and we don’t want to give up rhythm 3’s … We want to give up tough 2’s, and I thought we did a great job of that tonight.”
The Musketeers warded off a last-ditch comeback attempt from Georgetown while they were held scoreless in the final 4:49 seconds of the game.
The type of performance that Xavier put together Wednesday night was precisely where Steele positions the team’s identity – playing hard-nosed, strong-effort basketball.
The Musketeers now look ahead to a road matchup with Creighton on Sunday hoping to split the series with the Bluejays.