"We played with a lot of energy," senior point guard Tu Holloway said. "Coach Steele told us before the game that we were going to be subbing in and out every two or three minutes and that's what we did today. I came out with like 16 minutes left - early in the game - and that allowed Dee Davis to come in with a lot of energy. It's just good when guys are subbing in and out, everyone can always have energy on the defensive end."
Head Coach Chris Mack also appreciated his team's effort.
"We didn't necessarily score a whole lot in the first half, but we didn't let it affect our defense," Mack said. "If anything, we continued to get stops. That carried over to the second half."
Xavier forward Justin Martin, who has been playing as much power forward as he has small forward, was all over the place in the first half. He had three steals, four rebounds and several more deflections.
"Obviously, Justin didn't score but he really made some big-time energy plays," Mack, who was very animated while congratulating Martin at one point in the first half, said. "He rebounded the ball… That offensive rebound he got in the first half, he just kept battling and that ignites your teammates. It led to a Kenny Frease dunk and the Cintas Center erupted. It just gave our kids a lot of energy, which is great because sometimes when the score is like a Wisconsin Badgers' score in the first half it's hard to feel a lot of energy in the arena and that really helped us out."
Freshman point guard Dee Davis accounted for the other two two steals by Xavier in the half and also recorded a layup and an assist in his nine minutes.
Georgia turned the ball over 11 times in the first half and managed to make just six field goals while shooting a meager 21.4 percent.
On the other end of the court, Xavier utilized a balanced offensive attack paced by Kenny Frease and Mark Lyons who finished the half with six a piece. Tu Holloway, Travis Taylor and Dezmine Wells all added four points as Xavier jumped out to a 28-19 lead at intermission.
Like last game against Miami, Holloway failed to score a field goal in the first half of play with all four of his points coming from the free-throw line. The senior leader said he likes having talented teammates to defer to.
"It makes the game a lot easier for me. I don't have to force the issue and sometimes take bad shots or get bad turnovers because I'm trying to make so many plays," Holloway said. "As a point guard that's what I want. Maybe if I was a shooting guard I wouldn't be happy, but I'm a point guard. It makes the game easy for me when I can just dish the rock off to Trav or drive and kick to Dee Davis. It makes the game a lot easier."
Mack also clarified after the game that Holloway had slightly injured his shooting hand earlier in the week at practice.
"He's fine. He's such a tough kid and he just seems to get beat up a little bit. He goes after a loose ball the other day (in practice) and comes up and bends his finger the wrong way. We knew going in that he wasn't much of a 3-point threat. Obviously, Georgia didn't know that. He goes 0-for-0 from three and really let the game come to him. I also thought he was in attack mode and really played hard defensively and didn't let that stop him from being the leader that he is."
Coming out of halftime, Xavier put together a 12-0 run right out of the gate with Holloway scoring six of the 12. The Musketeers found both Holloway and his backcourt-mate Mark Lyons on a couple of backdoor cuts where they found Georgia being overaggressive.
"Kenny Frease is a great passer and with Andre Walker, those are two big guys who have great feel with the ball who can almost pass like guards," Holloway said. "I'm a senior, Kenny's a senior, Mark's a fourth year player and Andre's a senior, so that's just instincts. We went backdoor a couple of plays on them because we just naturally felt that they were overplaying and we were able to pick up on that and receive great passes from Andre and Kenny."
By the first media timeout at 15:30, Xavier had extended their lead to 40-19. Things got worse for the Bulldogs before they got better.
A Kenny Frease dunk, a Brad Redford 3-pointer off an assist from Lyons, an and-one layup by Jeff Robinson, another free-throw from Redford after Georgia picked up a technical for trying to call a timeout when they didn't have any and a Lyons' layup gave Xavier an 11-0 run that pushed their lead to it's largest point at 36 with 9:24 left to play.
"I thought the first 34 minutes or so, we were as good as we've been all year. I'm really proud of our kids' effort and intensity. I thought we really got after it," Mack said. "The last six minutes or so, we played the score again. I don't want to take anything away from Georgia because their kids kept playing hard. But the margin was 14, it was (36) at one point but we played great for 34 minutes. We have to finish games a little bit better."
Standout Georgia freshman, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope got hot and scored 12 of his 14 points in the next five minutes, which helped cut Xavier's lead to 66-44 with 5:38 to play.
Xavier was led by Travis Taylor in the second half as he scored six points and hauled in six boards, including four offensive rebounds, all in the second half.
"Trav is a high-motor, high-energy player. He's tenacious on the glass and he has a very quick second jump," Mack said about his forward. "Despite his frame and despite his size, if he gets his hands on it, generally he doesn't let it go. I still think he can score for us a little better around the basket on dump-offs. Sometimes I feel like he back up before he's balanced. It's probably a function of practicing every day against Kenny because he's so darn big, he's trying to get it up quicker because getting balanced against Kenny doesn't necessarily help him. His confidence will come, we'll get the wheels under him and he'll be more of a contributor in the scoring column as we continue to play."
Frease and Holloway both led Xavier with 12 points each. Frease also had nine rebounds. Taylor added a double-double with 10 points and 12 boards, while Lyons added 10 points and three assists.
After the game, Taylor pointed to team chemistry as the area where this team has improved the most.
"We played great defense," he said. "We got them out of whack. It was low-scoring on both ends, but in the first half I think they only scored 19 points if I'm not mistaken. That's just chemistry on defense with the young guys and the older guys."
Mack agreed that the team improved, but added that they're far from a finished product.
"I hope so. One game does not a season make. I hope so. We're trying to get our team to get to that point and tonight was a big improvement from last game. I thought we were much better than we were November 18."
Xavier plays next at No. 18 Vanderbilt on Monday night. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.