Quick Take: Villanova 77 Xavier 70

Xavier lost to Villanova, 76-70, Thursday night in front of 10,340 fans at the Cintas Center. Read Rick Broering's quick take on the Musketeers' Big East loss to the No. 6 ranked team in the nation.

Xavier Scoring: Justin Martin 20, Semaj Christon 18, Isaiah Philmore 15, Dee Davis 8, Jalen Reynolds 6, Myles Davis 3

Villanova Scoring: Darrun Hilliard 19, Jayvaughn Pinkston 15, James Bell 12, Ryan Arcidiacono 11, Kris Jenkins 9, Josh Hart 6, Dylan Ennis 2, Daniel Ochefu 2, Tony Chennault 1

Key Performer: Justin Martin was key to both Xavier's success and its struggles on Thursday night. He finished with 20 points on 5-of-11 shooting including 3-of-8 from beyond the arc and 7-of-7 from the free-throw line to go with six boards and an assist. He provided an offensive spark, and was one of the few players who could knock down an open jumper for X. He also had four turnovers, with all four of them coming in the first half, which helped the Wildcats take a 41-36 halftime lead, as they scored 11 points off of X's miscues in the half. Then in the second half he was caught off guard on a few occasions and beaten on backdoor cuts or in one case an alley-oop.

Good Stat: One area that was a big concern coming into the game was the Musketeers' ability to keep Villanova off of the offensive glass. The Wildcats scored 14 second-chance points against the Musketeers in the first game, and without one of the conference's leading rebounders in Stainbrook, it seemed like an issue coming into Thursday night. Not only did X limit Nova to eight offensive boards and six second-chance points, they gained an advantage by hauling in 11 offensive boards and scoring 10 second-chance points themselves. Reynolds led the way with four offensive rebounds.

Bad Stat: The final boxscore showed that Villanova out-shot X, 9-for-22 (40.9%) to 6-for-24 (25%), from 3-point range, but the numbers don't tell the whole story. The Musketeers dug themselves a hole because they weren't able to keep pace with the Wildcats' outside shooting. Nova got out to a 6-for-12 start in the first half, while X only made 3-of-8. Then, the Musketeers missed their first 11 attempts from beyond the arc to start the second half, before Dee Davis got them off the schneid with 1:12 to play. They finished 3-of-5 in that final minute to make it look more respectable, but X's inability to hit open looks from the outside has proven costly in the last two games.

Different Halves, Different Issues: Taking care of the basketball, limiting Villanova's 3-point looks and keeping the Wildcats off of the offensive glass were the three biggest keys coming into the game. In the first half of Thursday night's game, X turned the ball over seven times which led to 11 points for Villanova, the Wildcats hit 6-of-12 3-point attempts, and, although they only had three offensive rebounds, the first two were promptly kicked out for wide open threes by Arcidiacono. However, that's not the reason Xavier lost. The Musketeers didn't play poorly in the first half. They had good energy, did a better job of contesting Villanova's shots than they did the first time they played, and were patient but confident when executing on offense even without Matt Stainbrook on the floor. The Wildcats did give X trouble with their 3/4 court contained press, which is how they were able to create turnovers and convert them into easy runout buckets at the other end. When they handled the pressure, the Musketeers used good ball movement to combat Villanova's aggressive, trapping defense, and had eight assists on 11 first half field goals. They didn't exactly put on a clinic, but the Musketeers played pretty well offensively for the first 20 minutes against the Big East conference's best defensive team, as they scored 36 points, averaged 1.091 points per possession and shot 45.8 percent from the field, including 3-of-8 (37.5%) from 3-point range. Defensively it was another story for X. Villanova scored 41 points in the half, averaged 1.242 points per possession and shot 56 percent from the field, including 6-of-12 from beyond the arc. Darrun Hilliard proved to be a match-up problem for the Musketeers once again. After scoring 17 points against the Musketeers at Villanova, he came out on fire and scored 15 of his team-high 19 points in the first half. The second half played out the exact opposite of how the first half went down. Both teams picked up the defensive intensity, but took turns struggling to put the ball in the basket. Just like in the first game the Musketeers toned down the turnovers in the second half, only giving it up three times to finish the game with 10 total, which was actually less than Villanova's 14 miscues. X started 0-for-11 from three in the second half, before making 3-of-5 in the final 1:12 of the game. Villanova also went cold in the second half. After a blistering 5-of-7 start from the field including two threes, the Wildcats finished just 4-for-17 in the final 12 minutes of the game. Xavier did give Villanova a little trouble when it started picking up in a fullcourt press late once they got in desperation mode and forced the Wildcats into eight second half turnovers, but for the most part it just came down to both teams missing shots. The flow of the game changed and each team had its own hot and cold spells to make a run, but in the end Villanova was the better team by a few possessions.

Playing Without Stainbrook: A lot of focus was placed on the Musketeers' post players, particularly Jalen Reynolds, entering Thursday night's game with it being the first time they've played without Matt Stainbrook in the starting lineup. While they weren't able to pull off the win and the Musketeers are definitely a different team without him in there, it was mostly positive results from the leaner Xavier frontcourt. On senior night, Philmore led the way with 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting to go with four boards in 34 minutes of action. He seemed to be playing with a little extra edge and confidence on the offensive end, potentially due to senior night or knowing the team needed more out of him with Stainbrook out. Jalen Reynolds saw the second most minutes in the frontcourt rotation with six points and six boards in 23 minutes of action. Farr (0-for-1 FG) played 12 minutes and hauled in five boards plus blocked two shots on defense, and Stenger saw three minutes of action. There were also times where Mack went small, keeping one of post players at center and sliding Martin over to the four. Both of the young guys, Reynolds and Farr, responded well to their increased role. Reynolds picked up an early foul just 39 seconds into the game, but finished with just two fouls total and did a good job of staying on the court. Both of them rebounded the ball well while they were in there, and while Reynolds is a difference-maker defensively, Farr actually had one of his better showings on that end of the court as well. He allowed JayVaughn Pinkston to push him underneath the rim a few times, but Pinkston does that to most players he plays against, so it was a solid effort for Farr from a toughness and post play standpoint. Mack mentioned that Farr needs to hit some shots at the other end to give the team a boost offensively, and he hopes that this increased time on the court will help him get his confidence back up when it comes to shooting. While X would have loved to have Stainbrook out on the court and he could have potentially made the difference in the game, the Musketeers at least showed that they aren't going to be a wreck without the big man. Philmore said after the game that he definitely thought that it was a good opportunity for the Musketeers to get to play a game without Stainbrook before heading to the Big East tournament where it's lose and go home. He said he felt like the team came together, and learned that they have enough talent and heart to play with a really good team like Villanova even without one of their best players. This game also gave the Musketeers a chance to get acquainted with each others' new roles.

Takeaway: The Musketeers had a shot at a win that would have punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament without question, but lost to a Villanova team that was just better on Thursday night. The way they handled themselves in the absence of Stainbrook was a good show for the selection committee to prove that they aren't an incapable mess without their starting center on the court. If you look at BracketMatrix.com, 91 of the 96 brackets that they collect data from still have Xavier in at an average seed of 10.38. Also, when you consider the teams that X is on the bubble with, it's hard to find better resumes. One of the teams Musketeer fans are familiar with that is on the bubble is Providence. The Friars are currently projected as one of the "first four out" according to most bracketologists, and are theoretically one of the teams that could slide up and take Xavier's spot for an at-large bid. Their record against top 50 teams is 1-4, while Xavier's is 4-6. Even if they were to pull off the big upset at Creighton on Saturday, it's still questionable as to whether or not their resume compares to Xavier's. The Stainbrook injury makes everything more complicated, because its impossible to know how much the committee will use that against X, but at the very least they didn't hurt their case in that regard on Thursday night. Unless the Musketeers win the Big East tournament next week in New York City, fans are going to be anxious on Selection Sunday, but as of right now it would seem X already has a legit chance to get a bid, and a first round win at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night would remove a lot more doubt.


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