Cincinnati Scoring: Sean Kilpatrick 17, Shaq Thomas 13, Troy Caupain 5, Kevin Johnson 5, Jermaine Lawrence 3, Titus Rubles 3, Justin Jackson 1
Key Performance: In the final 10 minutes of Tuesday night's win over Evansville, Justin Martin played a huge role in the Musketeers' late-game success. The enigmatic wing was on a mission defensively, getting deflections, steals and two key blocks, plus he had the game-winning layup on a nice cut to the basket. Martin let that style of focused, energetic play carry over into the shootout, only he added his often heard about but rarely seen 3-point stroke to the mix and led the Musketeers' in scoring with 17 points as well. He was 3-for-5 from beyond the arc, and 4-for-4 at the free-throw line. He also had five rebounds, two assists and a steal. He played physical on the defensive end and was locked in all night. He had four turnovers, but also helped break the press at times by catching the ball in the middle of the floor and making good decisions. Martin's career to this point has featured a lot of inconsistent play. Whether he continues to be an offensive weapon and energy boost like this for Xavier remains to be seen, but this is definitely a signature moment in Justin Martin's Xavier basketball career.
Good Stat: Most would say the shooting, and certainly there's a case to be made for the Musketeers' 11-of-16 mark from beyond arc, but the biggest reason Xavier was the better team on Saturday night and would have been in position to win the game even had they not shot so well, is the dominance they displayed on the glass. Out-rebounding the Bearcats' 33-20 and limiting them to just four second-chance points was an almost unthinkable statistic with the way the X has struggled on the glass of late. Stainbrook controlled the paint and was dominant, but Farr was really productive too with six boards in just 13 minutes of action. Martin played a huge role, not only with the five boards he grabbed, but also by keeping a body on Shaq Thomas and keeping him off the glass. Randolph also pitched in with four rebounds from the guard position.
Ugly Stat: Xavier has been struggling with turnovers all year, and that was a major concern coming into Saturday night's game against a tough Cincinnati pressing defense. The Musketeers turned the ball over 20 times, which led to 15 points for UC. Now, X actually scored 14 points off of 10 Cincinnati turnovers too, so it didn't cost the the Muskies nearly as bad as it could have, but it's still an issue that needs fixed. The good thing is that they didn't fold against Cincinnati's pressure. More than a few of the turnovers came on entry passes to the post, either on the receiving end with the big fumbling the catch away, or with the passer trying to force it when one of Cincinnati's long, athletic bigs were in good fronting position to deflect the pass away. Those turnovers still equal empty possessions, but they also don't hurt nearly as bad when they don't lead to easy buckets on the other end.
X Lights It Up: Coming into the Crosstown Shootout, one of the big factors that everyone talked about was each team's struggling offense. With neither squad having much in the way of shooters on the offensive end, it was expected that this game would be won at the free-throw line and on tough buckets in the paint. No one could have expected that at the under eight minute media timeout, the Musketeers would be leading 24-10 because they had hit 5-of-6 threes. But Justin Martin made two of them, Dee Davis canned one after looking off a defender, James Farr hit one off of a pick-and-pop and Myles Davis got a good look in transition all in the first 12 minutes to not only take a lead, but withstand the last 13:25 of the half without Semaj Christon on the floor. The Musketeers cooled off a little bit in the final eight minutes, hitting just 1-of-3 from 3-point land to make them 6-for-9 in the first half. X also shot 65 percent (13-of-20) from the field. They didn't slow down in the second half. After Cincinnati cut the deficit to just 10 with over 13:00 left, Randolph and Christon nailed back-to-back threes to push the lead back to 16, and then a possession later Christon nailed another three to break Cincinnati's spirits and put the game out of reach. Randolph added one more with 3:43 to play to give Xavier it's biggest lead of the night at 22, 64-42. Xavier did a lot of other things well to put themselves in position to win this game, but the Musketeers' insane shooting performance allowed them to overcome 20 turnovers and any other miscues while keeping a cushion. Their ability to knock down shots kept the game out of reach, thwarted every Bearcats' comeback attempt, and allowed the offense to operate efficiently with Christon only scoring eight points on 3-of-7 shooting in 20 minutes of action. The scouting report on Xavier says to sell out defensively to stop Christon from getting to the basket, especially by crowding the lane with help-side defenders looking to take a charge. Mick Cronin and the Bearcats gambled on Justin Martin, Brandon Randolph, Myles Davis, and Dee Davis missing open jump shots. They executed their game-plan to an extent. They weren't as tough or as active as they needed to be, but Christon missed half the game because of picking up three offensive fouls, and was forced to take three of his seven shot attempts from beyond the arc; he didn't even get a free-throw attempt. His teammates beat the scouting report and the game-plan by knocking down good look after good look.
Figuring It Out on the Boards: One of the lasting quotes from Chris Mack's postgame press conference following the win over Evansville was "we've got to figure something out," referring to his team being out-rebounded for the fourth straight game on Tuesday night. It appeared Mack's focus all week in practice on communication and toughness when rebounding helped his team figure it out on Saturday night against Cincinnati. The Bearcats aren't a good defensive rebounding team, but their length and athleticism makes them tough to box out, and second-chance points have become a big part of their offense. Xavier completely eliminated that weapon from their arsenal by dominating the battle of the boards, 33-20. Cincinnati was only able to grab seven offensive boards, and scored just four second-chance points. Matt Stainbook controlled the paint for X, leading the way with a game-high 11 rebounds. The advantage on the glass was a team effort, though. The guards, and particularly Justin Martin, played physical and got a body on someone every time a shot went up to allow Stainbrook and the bigs to rebound one-on-one against the Bearcats' small frontcourt. Titus Rubles and Justin Jackson are effort guys who create their offense with defensive plays or offensive rebounding. Xavier didn't allow them to ever get going by controlling the paint early and then racing out to a big lead. If Xavier can bottle that effort and toughness on the glass going forward, they'll be tough to beat.
Quotable: "We all just came out ready to play. We came out with a mindset and focus of each four-minute war at a time. We go by four-minute wars. There's 10 four-minute wars in a game, so we wanted to come out and win the first four, and we came out with an attacking mentality," - Justin Martin on X's fast start.
Takeaway: The last six Xavier games are such a great example of Xavier's margin for error being extremely thin, and winning in Division-I basketball being tremendously fragile. A few plays cost the Musketeers' a top-25 win over Iowa, and then the emotional letdown that followed cost them two losses to Tennessee and USC. A week ago after the Musketeers struggled to beat Bowling Green in overtime, they looked like a team searching for answers. Now, after drilling their crosstown rival by 17 and showing mental and physical toughness on a neutral court, they look like a confident team ready for Big East play. It's easy to get caught up in the Crosstown Shootout result, but in reality this Xavier team is probably somewhere in between the team we thought they were last week and the team we saw Saturday night against UC. It's unlikely that they put on that same type of shooting performance on the road at Alabama next Saturday, so they'll have to show consistency with their mental and physical toughness if they want this win to be a springboard for any type of success going forward.