Providence Scoring: Bryce Cotton 25, LaDontae Henton 23, Kadeem Batts 12, Tyler Harris 12, Josh Fortune 7, Carson Desrosiers 2
Good Stat: One statistical category that was thrown out as a key to the game was the rebounding at both ends of the court, as both teams came into the game flaunting their rebounding numbers as a major strength, particularly on the offensive end. While this will go largely overlooked because of the questions about X's "effort" in the loss, the Musketeers actually won the battle of the boards 40-38, and out-rebounded the Friars on the offensive glass 14-12. More importantly, X outscored Providence 16-8 in second chance points. There were times where the Friars came up with timely second chance buckets, and it was far from a dominating performance on the glass for X, but those numbers on the road against the conference's top rebounding team are pretty strong.
Bad Stat: The most costly stat for Xavier is without a doubt Providence's 16-for-25 (64%) mark from the field in the second half. The Friars were 4-for-7 from beyond the arc, and made big shot after big shot to keep their lead in tact when the Musketeers were trying to make a run. Xavier's defense has struggled in the last few weeks, but not being able to get stops in the second half against Providence was arguably their most futile 20 minutes of the season on the defensive end.
Key Performance: Justin Martin continues to be one of the Musketeers' consistent scoring threats, and in the first half against Providence he was all they had. He finished with 19 points on 9-of-15 shooting, grabbed seven rebounds (four offensive), and dished out two assists. He scored 13 of the 19 in the first half when he was X's only offensive threat. Farr was the only other player with more than one field goal (four points). Martin's first bucket was an open spot-up three like we've seen plenty of times this year, but then he got a little more creative scoring off a slash to the basket and then a couple of tough long jumpers. In the second half, he hit a fadeaway off the bounce on the first possession, showing how far his confidence has come in his own abilities this year. What made his performance most impressive was his effort. There was always the chance that Martin was going to develop into a scorer and a player who could knock down jumpers, but the way he thrives so much on effort, both on the boards and chasing down loose balls, is legitimately surprising. It wasn't a flawless performance, as he struggled along with the rest of the team defensively, and had a costly turnover late in the game, but Martin was definitely X's best player on Saturday.
Defensive Slide Costs X: Over the last five games Xavier has allowed an average of 79.2 points to their opponents. It's been one of the major talking points during the Musketeer's 3-2 stretch. With defense being a new issue for this program, it's a little bit more difficult to identify the exact root of the problem. Against Creighton it was finding shooters in transition, in the first half against Georgetown it was getting caught up in dribble hand-offs, and against Providence it seemed to be a little bit of everything - Bryce Cotton driving to the rim, LaDontae Henton getting timely second-chance buckets, Josh Fortune and Tyler Harris getting an open look from three, Kadeem Batts cutting to the rim, and plenty of unnecessary fouls that allowed the Friars to gain an eight-point edge in free-throws alone. In it's simplest form the main issue for Xavier right now is a lack of energy and intensity off the ball. One of the buzz words of the Pack Line defense is keeping the defense "tight." That requires guys to play with great energy away from the ball, jumping and swiping in the gaps with every pass. In other instances, the problem is guys trailing their man on cuts to the basket, poor communication in transition, or players failing to execute the proper rotations and safety mechanisms within the defense - all which fall back on a lack of energy and intensity off the ball. Against Creighton it was easier to blame some of the problems on one guy, in that case Stainbrook, because there were match-up issues with him guarding Ethan Wragge, but looking at the other games it's clear that it's not just one player, it's the whole team that is failing to execute. Providence deserves plenty of credit for the the way that they played on offense. Cotton made some very difficult shots where there wasn't much more X could do, and Henton is relentless and skilled. However, Xavier can't allow a poor shooting team to shoot 64 percent in the second half when they need to make a comeback. They can't give up several good looks per half from beyond the arc, and they can't put the best free-throw shooting team in the conference at the line for 30 attempts on the road. Coach Mack made a good point that the defensive issues were being masked by the fact that the team continued to win. It's sometimes hard to get your message across as a coach when your team is winning despite its flaws. Mack will have his team's full attention in practice this week. Friars' Stars Out-duel X's best: Xavier's defensive issues are a recurring problem, and something that needs to be fixed for this team's long term success. There's no way around that. At the same time, the biggest reason Providence beat Xavier on Saturday afternoon was that Friars' best players were better than Xavier's best players. Bryce Cotton and LaDontae Henton didn't go a whole half before they got going and started scoring. They were a constant presence, leading their team throughout the game. Christon was pretty good… for a stretch in the second half when the Musketeers were already well behind. Cotton was great, showing off his flashy handle and speed on drives with high-arching finishes off the glass, and also knocked down 3-of-8 from beyond the arc. He also dished out seven assists to Christon's two. The Musketeers' weren't built to rely on Justin Martin as one of their best two players, but even though he made LaDontae Henton's 23 points and 11 rebounds sting a little less with his 19 points and seven boards, Stainbrook didn't even quite equal the production of Kadeem Batts, nor did Philmore match up with Tyler Harris. The Musketeers were supposed to have an advantage at those positions. For them to win consistently, they need Christon and Stainbrook to be the best two players on the floor, even if they're getting some help carrying the scoring load. Saturday afternoon that just wasn't the case.
Takeaway: This is far from a bad loss, but it is a missed opportunity. From the looks of the game, it wouldn't be a surprise to see X return the favor at the Cintas Center on Saturday, February 8. Losing games like this gives the Musketeers much less wiggle room. With each tough road loss, they become more and more reliant on winning out at home in the conference, or beating every bottom five team regardless of location. Next Saturday's game at Cintas against Seton Hall is a must win, as is the Providence return game a week later. Using the term "good loss" is senseless, but this game will certainly serve as a teaching point for Coach Mack and his staff to use this week in practice, and they will take advantage of it while they have their team's full attention. Being able to score is a great trait for a college basketball team to have, but the Muskies need to get back to their identity on defense as well.