The Lumberjacks didn't have a Paul Bunyan among them.
The size and talent of Xavier’s frontcourt overwhelmed Northern Arizona as the burly Matt Stainbrook and athletic Jalen Reynolds combined for 34 points and 14 rebounds in the Musketeers’ 93-60 win. Freshman forward Trevon Bluiett also tied Stainbrook with a team-best 18 points, marking the most points ever scored by a Xavier freshman in his debut per Xavier Sports Information Director Tom Eiser.
Bluiett was 6-of-8 from the field and 1-of-3 from 3-point range, with five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
”One, he’s built like a linebacker, so he’s physically strong enough to play at this level,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said when asked why Bluiett has been able to transition so easily from high school to college. “Two, he’s a really good player. He has a very, very high IQ for the game. He makes the right play.”
Stainbrook said that Bluiett has blended well with the rest of the veterans early on: “He’s done such a good job with finding the open guy and not forcing his shot, and sort of finding his flow within our Xavier offense.”
Beginning their second season in the Big East conference, the Musketeers were picked to finish fourth by other Big East coaches after finishing tied for third last season and losing top scorers Semaj Christon and Justin Martin.
Friday night the Musketeers showed they have enough offensive firepower to not only overcome those losses but also potentially be an even better offensive team than they were a season ago.
Xavier shot 66.7 percent from the field, including knocking down 7-of-19 (36.8 %) from 3-point range, four guys scored in double figures and all 11 scholarship players that played found their way into the scorebook. The Musketeers had 22 assists on 36 baskets.
“As long as our team continues to make the right play for one another, we’ll be a hard team to guard,” Mack said.
Xavier’s freshmen – not including Edmond Sumner (tendinitis) and Makinde London (redshirt), who weren’t available for the game - all got in on the act and made it a memorable college debut early on in the first half.
Bluiett scored five of the Musketeers’ first 14 points, J.P. Macura scored on a baseline drive off an assist from Myles Davis a minute after entering the game with 10:42 left in the first half and then scored again on an out of bounds play two possessions later, center Sean O’Mara finished an and-one bucket off an assist from Stainbrook near the 10:00 mark, and backup point guard Larry Austin assisted Bluiett on a three and then had a steal and layup of his own during a sequence that took place around the 3:00 mark.
In addition to Bluiett’s 18, Macura added seven points, O’Mara added three, and Austin added two. O’Mara’s playing time was limited all night due to foul trouble, and he actually fouled out after playing only six minutes with 7:18 left to play in the game.
After struggling to find open guys and forcing the issue a little too often in the exhibition win over Northwood, sophomore Brandon Randolph played a much better floor game and fulfilled the role of backup point guard well on Friday.
While Austin struggled against Northern Arizona’s pressure at times and had three turnovers, Randolph was confident when handling the ball and found open teammates all over the court. He dished out five assists, including two corner kick-outs for Myles Davis 3-pointers, swiped two steals on defense and only had one turnover. He was also efficient with his shot selection, scoring four points on 2-of-3 shooting from the field.
Xavier’s lead reached its largest point, 86-35, with 6:47 left in the game when Randolph threw down a one-handed slam in transition.
One of the only downers for Xavier fans was when James Farr left the game with an apparent leg injury, and was then limited the rest of the night. He finished with two points (1-3 FG, 0-2 3PT), four rebounds, three blocks and two assists in 17 minutes of action. After the game, Mack confirmed that Farr was just cramping.
The Lumberjacks’ leading returning scorer and top player Quinton Upshur ended up scoring a game-high 20 points, but the Musketeers held him scoreless until there was 2:05 left in the first half. Once Mack began playing the end of the bench more extended minutes together after the game was clearly in hand, Upshur went nuts and started spraying shots late in the game, including four quick threes.
Northern Arizona ate into Xavier’s lead a good bit in the final six-plus minutes, trimming the Musketeers’ lead from 51 to its final margin of victory, 33, making the game look closer than it actually was.
With Farr battling cramps and O’Mara fouled out, Xavier played guys out of position and went small with only one true post player in the final minutes, which also partially led to Northern Arizona’s big run at the end.
“I want to try to lead by example on the court,” Stainbrook said. “I don’t think there’s any one thing I need to show offensively or defensively, obviously I need to be solid in those areas, but I want to be able to keep our team together. I think you saw near the end of the game, we didn’t lose our composure, but even when we have James cramping and Sean fouling out and we may have a lineup in that we don’t necessarily want at the end of the game, we can’t give up that many points at the end.”
“If we want to be a good defensive team, if we want to be as deep as we think we are, we have to be able to close games no matter what the score is, because we’re not going to get better at defense, we’re not going to get better as a team and we’re not going to be as deep as we want if we can’t close games.”
Xavier’s next game is Tuesday when it hosts Long Beach state for a 7 pm tipoff.