Alabama Scoring: Trevor Releford 17, Shannon Hale 14, Levi Randolph 13, Rodney Cooper 9, Nick Jacobs 8, Retin Obasohan 8, Carl Engstrom 3, Algie Key 2
Key Performance: Isaiah Philmore was dominant inside against Alabama's frontline, and played his best game of the year with 17 points and 12 boards. Philmore set the tone early by playing physical defense on Alabama's Nick Jacobs. He had a few rough possessions when stretch forward Shannon Hale checked in and put seven quick points on him, but he kept working and came through with a big and-one on a tough shot a few possessions later. At halftime he led X with seven points and six boards. The best part about his performance was how consistently dominant he was throughout the game. He continued his strong effort in the second half as he came up with numerous big rebounds on both ends of the court, and scored 10 more points to go with six more boards. Matt Stainbrook is providing the post presence that we all thought he could before the season started. His ability on the offensive end is going to open up opportunities for his fellow post players. If Xavier's bigs can continue to take advantage the way Philmore did against Alabama, this offense will be a lot more productive.
Good Stat: Rebounding is a crucial part of the game no matter who the opponent is, but coming into Saturday night against an Alabama team that isn't very skilled offensively, limiting their second chance points was going to be essential to winning. For the second straight game, the Musketeers controlled the glass, winning the battle of the boards 38-34. Even more importantly, the Musketeers' gained a big advantage on the offensive end, out-rebounding the Crimson Tide 17-8 on the offensive boards and outscoring them 19-9 in second chance points. Shooting the way the Musketeers did against Cincinnati or the way Alabama did against Xavier for the first 30 minutes Saturday night doesn't last and can't be relied upon to win games consistently. Toughness on the boards and on defense can, and the Musketeers have gotten it done in that regard over the last two games.
Bad Stat: To say the Musketeers had a hangover from the Cincinnati game or came out flat at Alabama is unfair and inaccurate. The Musketeers' effort was there in the first half when they posted just 26 points, but they couldn't hit a shot. They started 10-of-30 from the field (33.3%) over the first 20 minutes, and hit just 1-of-8 from beyond the arc. The Musketeers got down by as many as nine in the first half and trailed 33-26 at halftime because they couldn't make anything, including good looks from point-blank range. It was a little disappointing after the way they shot against Cincinnati, but not all that unexpected in their first real road game.
Muskies Start Slow, Finish Strong: After shooting the lights out against Cincinnati and exploding for 41 first half points, the Musketeers struggled to make shots in the first half against the Crimson Tide. X hit just 10-of-30 from the field, 1-of-8 from 3-point range, and trailed 33-26 at halftime. The second half started to feel like a continuation of the first half for the first 10 minutes. At the 16:26 mark they trailed by 12, but the Musketeers were playing hard enough and were making just enough shots to hang around. They'd cut the deficit to five only to see it quickly shoot back up to double-digits. They just couldn't get over the hump. However, starting at the 9:48 mark, they went on a defensive stand that would hold Alabama without a field goal until the final 20 seconds of the game and allow themselves to go on a 29-16 run to take the lead for good. Dee Davis gave the Musketeers their first lead, 64-61, on an and-one with 4:41 to play, and they never looked back. Chris Mack came through with another key defensive call in the second half that sparked his team's decisive run. In the UC game it was putting on the press, but against Alabama it was the change to a 2-3 zone that seemed to knock the Crimson Tide on their heels and got the Musketeers rolling.
Supporting Cast Leads the Way Again: A line of nine points on 4-for-11 shooting for Semaj Christon would have been a disaster for Xavier last year. Saturday night, Christon found a way to make an impact without scoring during the Musketeers' big run in the second half, and his supporting cast looked comfortable shouldering the scoring load in the big comeback win. His full stat line of five assists, four rebounds, three steals, two blocks and only one turnover tell more about his contribution and role on Saturday than his scoring stats do. After seeing the deficit yo-yo between two and four possessions, James Farr nailed back-to-back threes to finally help Xavier break through and make it a one-point game, 59-58, with 6:29 to play. After a pair of free-throws by Algie Key, Matt Stainbrook's and-one with 5:03 to play tied the game up at 61-61. Dee Davis' and-one on the next possession gave Xavier the 64-61 lead. Christon assisted Stainbrook's and-one, and then got the steal that led to Davis' and-one. He then assisted another Stanbrook layup on the following possession to give Xavier a two possession lead with 3:50 to play. In the final two minutes with a five-point lead, Xavier sent four different guys to the free-throw line to make 7-of-8 high pressure free-throws. Christon went 1-for-2, and Isaiah Philmore, Myles Davis and Dee Davis all made both of theirs to seal the win. Xavier got 42 points out of its post rotation of Philmore, Stainbrook, Farr and Jalen Reynolds. They're still not an overly impressive offensive team, but they're starting to show the improved depth and talent that was talked about so much before the season. Every game there are different guys stepping up to produce on the offensive end, and as a result the team is becoming a lot more balanced and hard to guard. The emergence of Farr as a perimeter scoring threat to team with Myles Davis and now even Dee Davis gives Xavier three legitimate 3-point shooters on the court, and those guys are giving the offense a big boost by making defenses pay for giving them open looks and sagging in the lane.
Takeaway: This is a win that feels bigger than it looks on paper. In reality it's a road win against a middle of the pack SEC team that is now under .500 for the season. The Musketeers did answer some questions with the win though. They showed that they can continue to score some points without Semaj Christon going off for 20. They proved that they aren't going to fold at the first sign of adversity on the road, despite what they showed in the Bahamas. They have improved on early deficiencies such as free-throw shooting and turnovers. Most importantly, they showed that they can play with some emotion, confidence and dare I say "toughness" in their first true road game. This team is still a work in progress, but they're showing improvement and there's still plenty of upside.