X Scoring: Martin 13, Stainbrook 13, Christon 12, Philmore 8, Myles Davis 7, Dee Davis 4, Reynolds 2
Key Performance: The first meeting between these two teams, Bryce Cotton and LaDontae Henton were the best two players on the court and they won the game for Providence. On Saturday, Christon and Stainbrook returned the favor for Xavier. Both played really well carrying X to the win, but Christon's performance was the big key, mainly because of his defense. He spent most of the game guarding Bryce Cotton and had to fight through screen after screen, while keeping the quick and elusive guard in front without fouling. It may have taken away from his offense some, but he still managed to be there when the team needed him most and was aggressive during those stretches where they couldn't score. He finished with 12 points on 3-of-8 shooting to go with three assists, two steals and two boards in 39 minutes. Also, his steal on Bryce Cotton with under a minute to play in a two-point game, sealed the win and may be looked back at as a play that kept the Musketeers' season on track.
Good Stat: One of the biggest keys to stopping Providence's offense is keeping them off of the free-throw line. With Cotton's quickness and constant driving plus Henton and Batt's relentlessness in the paint, they do a good job of drawing contact, and they're a great free-throw shooting team. On Saturday, they only shot seven free-throws compared to the 30 they shot last game against Xavier. Part of it was the way the refs were calling the game, as they were letting the players play underneath for sure, but the Musketeers deserve a lot of credit for keeping the ball in front of them more so they could contest shots without fouling, and also for not picking up dumb fouls away from the ball. The first time around X was called for a lot of small stuff, such as holds and grabs, when the Friars were running through some of their offensive actions, particularly flex.
Bad Stat: Once again the Musketeers were unable to get anything to go down from the outside. They finished just 1-of-9 from 3-point range. Providence mixed up defenses and played some man and zone, and their defensive philosophy is similar to Xavier's in the sense that they want every three to be contested and nothing easy in the paint, forcing the opponent to settle for tough twos, but the Musketeers missed som good looks again. Martin was 0-for-4 from the outside, and Myles Davis was 1-for-3. Nobody else attempted more than one, and Christon didn't attempt any. Had the Musketeers knocked down a few shots, this could have easily turned into a double-digit victory.
Muskies Return to Defensive Roots: The first two possessions on defense didn't look like a good sign for a team that had been struggling on the defensive end. Fortune nailed Providence's first 3-point attempt on a wide open look where Dee had sucked down too far on help defense, and then Batts nailed a face-up 17-footer where he basically wasn't guarded. However, after that Xavier's defense locked in and forced the Friars to miss their next 11 attempts from the field. The rest of the half was a mixed bag, that was ultimately good enough. The Musketeers' strong stretch of defense through the middle of the half was a victory in itself in some regards, considering the way they had put themselves in a hole in the first half of all three recent losses. Towards the end of the half, Providence got some easy looks that proved to be costly for X. At the 4:00 mark, X led by two after an and-one by Stainbrook. On the Musketeers' next possession, Randolph threw the ball right to Fortune on the wing for a runout layup. That letdown seemed to take the wind out of the Muskies' sails on the defensive end. Cotton sliced through them for an easy layup in transition, and Fortune scored five straight points on the next two possessions after the media timeout. Fortunately for Xavier, Martin and Reynolds both answered with inside buckets off of penetration from Christon and Dee Davis to avoid a big run and kept it within one at halftime. The big key to the win was the way Xavier started the second half. The Musketeers came out of the locker room completely locked in and playing with even more energy. After Batts opened the half with a jumper, the Friars were held scoreless for over four minutes from the 19:30 mark to 15:04 when they scored their next basket on a three by Fortune. During that stretch, Xavier went on a 9-0 run to take a six-point lead. The Musketeers had two steals and forced another turnover during the run, and didn't allow anything easy inside. That put them in control of the game, and they never looked back, as they held Providence to just 21 points in the second half. The Friars averaged .700 points per possession, went 8-of-25 from the field and had six turnovers, some of which were very uncharacteristic for them.
Providence Faces New Look Xavier: There weren't any huge changes on Xavier's end after the three-game skid, but Providence definitely saw a different team than what the Musketeers have been in conference play. In addition to just "playing better" and with more heart, Mack actually did make some adjustments to the gameplan this time around. The most noticeable and effective was putting Semaj Christon on Bryce Cotton. After the Friars' point guard carved up the Musketeers for 25 points the last game, Christon held him to just nine points on 4-of-11 shooting on Saturday. Dee Davis is a great defender, but Christon was clearly the better match-up for Cotton because of his lateral quickness and his extra length and size. While Cotton's ability to penetrate and break defenders down is unrivaled in the conference, he is slight of stature and the coaching staff noticed on film that having bigger bodies at least around him when he tries to finish can make him less effective. Christon did a great job of keeping him in front so he was there when Cotton attempted a shot. It's pretty clear that Providence relies on Cotton to carry the offense. He just always has the ball in his hands. They put Christon through every defensive situation possible and he was able to rise to the challenge and cut off the head of the snake that is the Friars' offense. Mack also made some minor lineup changes. Stenger, who didn't play last time against Providence, got the start over Philmore, which Mack said was his way of sending a message to his senior. He only played 24 minutes last time because of foul trouble, and saw 25 minutes in this one without being in foul trouble. He played well while he was out there though, finishing with eight points and eight boards. Reynolds, who played well last time in eight minutes of action against the Friars, was even better this time around and saw his minutes go up to 11, which was his highest total since the Marquette game. Reynolds had a monster two-hand dunk and five rebounds during his stretch, and he also played some critical minutes in the second half. Farr only saw five minutes, all in the first half.
Takeaway: That game was pretty much what you would expect from those two teams, which are both solid, well-coached teams that had were slipping and really needed a win. It was hard-fought, physical and ugly at times, but both teams scrapped on defense and showed improvement over their recent form. Xavier, especially at home, is the slightly better team. The good news for the Musketeers is that they proved that they can still get the job done on the defensive end. Now they'll have to carry that momentum and continue to hold teams down offensively. The bad news is offensively they still have trouble putting the ball in the basket. This game they were able to squeak out with really good defense, toughness and by taking care of the ball. If they want to take down Creighton or Villanova at home, they're going to have to get the offense going again.