The added depth provided by Martin and Dee Davis' return proved to be pivotal in the win. Dee Davis made his presence felt in a big way, as he ended up having to play 35 minutes with Brandon Randolph and Myles Davis getting into early foul trouble, and he showed no signs of rust running the offense.
Xavier used a balanced attack to put up 79 points against the Eagles, but it was the Musketeers' defense that was the biggest difference as they held their opponent to just 29.2 percent shooting for the game.
The Musketeers locked up Angelo Warner, Morehead State's leading scorer who was coming off a 25-point effort in a win over East Tennessee State, holding the athletic wing to just six points while going 0-for-6 from the field. Star guard Semaj Christon drew the defensive assignment most of the night.
Xavier scuffled along through the first four minute war. The Musketeers missed a layup, a free-throw, turned it over three times and fouled twice all in that opening stretch. Randolph, who had been playing sensationally for a freshman through the first two games, had a one minute stretch where he committed a turnover, fouled, committed a second turnover and then fouled again to send the game to the first media timeout, with the score tied 4-4.
Both teams battled foul trouble throughout the night. The refs called a combined 56 personal fouls (29 on XU, 27 on MSU), and it impacted both teams' backcourts early on, with Randolph picking up three in the first half and Myles Davis committing two for Xavier, and Morehead State point guard Kareem Storey and backcourt-mate Brent Arrington picking up three as well.
The Musketeers didn't begin making their move until the 10:00 mark in the first half. Isaiah Philmore's jumper brought X within one of the Eagles, 15-14, and started a 12-0 run that culminated five minutes later with a tip-in by Reynolds to put X in front, 24-15.
Despite not being able to make shots, a handful of free-throws and a transition layup from Story brought MSU within three, 24-21, by the 4:00 mark.
Xavier answered back with a free-throw filled 14-2 run, and Justin Martin's and-one with 39 seconds to play gave the Muskies their biggest lead of the half, 38-23. That's the way the half would end.
The margin was never closer than 15 points in the second half. Xavier continued to corral the Eagles' dribble-drive offense by keeping the floor tight, and clogging driving lanes. Morehead couldn't beat the defense with its perimeter shooting either, as they connected on just 4-of-18 attempts from 3-point range. Head coach Sean Woods thought his players were a little anxious playing against a Big East team and against Xavier's big post players who defended well, which led to some misses on shots his team would normally put down.
Matt Stainbrook was a difference-maker on the defensive end with three blocks and a steal, and he led Xavier on the glass with 10 rebounds. The Musketeers played through him often on offense, but he wasn't as aggressive himself, scoring only seven points on four shot attempts.
Isaiah Philmore helped pick up some of the scoring slack with a 10 point effort on 4-of-5 shooting, and freshman Jalen Reynolds had a breakout game with 11 points, six boards and two blocks. Reynolds' performance was his best through three games, and as a result he ended up staying on the court for 19 minutes.
"I was frustrated for Jalen - I wanna clarify that - I didn't say I was frustrated at him, I said frustrated for him because everyone on our team knows how much potential he has and how good of a player he's going to be… and at times can be now," head coach Chris Mack said. "He hasn't been able to show that because he's been in foul trouble, the ball hasn't found him, he's dropped a few passes… but I thought tonight was by far his best game. Hopefully that gives him a shot in the arm and he continues to be a huge boost for our team."
James Farr also provided a little offensive spark off the bench in just eight minutes of action as he went 3-of-4 from the field and finished with eight points, including another 3-pointer.
Dee Davis fulfilled the role Mack wants him to be playing, which is to be a distributing point guard in a more talented offense this year. He finished with seven points, nine assists, five rebounds, three steals and only four turnovers.
"I want him to be a pass-first point guard, a guy that really creates shots for his teammates," Mack said. "He has to think singles and doubles and not necessarily home runs and grand slams. When he does that, makes the easy play, he's so talented that he sees things develop, he can have nights like tonight where he gets nine assists and four turnovers."
Christon was finishing everything off, which made him impossible to guard when going to the rim. He finished with a game-high 20 points on a 10-of-13 effort from the field, and nearly all of them came on aggressive drives and finishes. He also had five assists and only one turnover, but missed all four of his free-throw attempts. He's now just 11-for-27 on the season from the line.
"I can make them," Christon said after the game. "It's just a mental thing right now. I'm going to bounce back."
Xavier will look to move to 4-0 when they host Miami (OH) at the Cintas Center on Wednesday. Tip-off is slated for 8 pm.