Xavier scored the first 11 points of the game and never looked back Monday night as the Musketeers cruised to an 89-62 win over Murray State in front of 9,446 fans at the Cintas Center.
Freshman Trevon Bluiett and senior Matt Stainbrook led Xavier on offense with 19 points apiece, while junior James Farr and sophomore Jalen Reynolds helped the Musketeers gain a 56-23 edge on the boards by each hauling in double-digit rebounds.
Bluiett’s performance marked the fourth straight game to start his career that he’s scored in double-figures. The last Musketeer in program history to stretch that streak to five games in their freshman year was Jamie Gladden in 1989.
“I’m just getting it within the offense,” Bluiett said. “It’s not easy, but when I have teammates finding me and I’m getting wide open shots – I’ve been practicing that all my life. In practice and pre-game, I work on that same exact stuff. I try to get game-time shots in before the game so that way it goes in.”
It was Bluiett’s marksmanship from the perimeter that powered the Musketeers’ offense in the first half, and helped them build their 20-point halftime lead. He led all-scorers at half with 14 points, and was 4-of-5 from beyond the arc.
“We’re very confident in him,” Farr said of Bluiett. “He’s just a pure scorer. He’s very efficient with his numbers.”
The Musketeers jumped out to a 15-2 lead by the first media timeout of the game. During that stretch, they turned three Murray State turnovers into seven points and got easy buckets in transition. They also scored on two early second chance buckets.
One of those put-backs came from Farr, who flew across the lane from right to left to snatch the ball above the rim, then all in one motion he quickly spun around and shot it with his momentum still carrying him towards the Racers’ bench. That play was just a preview of the way the Musketeers, and in particular Farr, was going to play throughout the game. He finished with a double-double of 10 points and a career-high 14 rebounds.
“I think James specifically set the tone for how we rebounded tonight,” head coach Chris Mack said. “That first offensive rebound, he came out of nowhere, snatched it and put it right back. He was a tone-setter.
Farr said his motivation stemmed from Mack challenging the team this week in practice.
“Coach Mack’s main point of emphasis in practice was just to block out and try and get as many rebounds as you can,” Farr said. “That was my main goal tonight was just to try and get as many rebounds as I could.”
The Musketeers built their lead up to 17 on a layup by Stainbrook off an assist from Brandon Randolph with 13:25 to play in the half. Less than four minutes later, Murray State had cut its deficit to seven, as averages began to even themselves out and a little bit of complacency set in for Xavier.
That’s when Bluiett buried threes on consecutive possessions to push the lead back to 13, and get the offense rolling again.
Xavier shot 61.1 percent from the field, including 5-of-11 from 3-point range in the first half, while averaging 1.37 points per possession (the NCAA average is 0.97). The Musketeers also converted 13 Murray State turnovers into 17 points and 11 offensive rebounds into 11 second-chance points as they took a 52-32 lead at intermission.
Murray State cut the deficit to 16 out of the locker rooms with a quick 4-0 run in the first 40 seconds of the second half, but that would be as close as the Racers got.
Bluiett quickly buried his fifth three of the night to end the Racers’ run.
The only other excitement occurred with just under nine minutes left when J.P. Macura got a steal and went airborne for a layup. Murray State big man Terron Gilmore fouled him hard and the momentum of the blow carried Macura’s feet out from under him, sending him crashing to the floor where he banged up his lower back, elbow and head.
There was an audible reaction of terror from the crowd, and Macura’s teammates froze with concern for their teammate… all except for one of them. Reynolds took a few steps out onto the court to go check on his teammate, which made him in violation of the NCAA rule that states that a player cannot leave the bench and come onto the court – he was ejected, as was Gilmore for his foul which was deemed a flagrant two.
“When he fell, everybody on the bench was just frozen… well, except for Jalen,” Bluiett said of Macura’s injury. “We were all in shock but I’m glad that he’s alright.”
Macura was initially taken back to the trainer’s room to get checked out, but returned to the bench and finished the game cheering on his teammates.
“Knowing J.P,. he’s very tough,” Farr said. “I talked to him in the locker room and he was joking around. He’s a tough kid. He’ll be alright in my eyes.”
Mack said that he “hurt more of his tailbone than anything,” and that he would be re-evaluated over the next 24 hours to see “if anything else progresses the wrong way.”
Reynolds will not be suspended for an extra game for the ejection, and will be available to play on Thursday in Anaheim.
Up until his ejection, he gave Xavier great minutes, finishing with 12 points, 11 rebounds and 2 blocks in 18 minutes of action.
The Racers playing a more traditional lineup with two post players allowed the Musketeers to do the same with Farr, Reynolds, Stainbrook and even O’Mara on the court together more, two at a time. Keeping two of them on the court with Bluiett at the three had a part in their success on the glass, according to Mack.
“The rebounding difference wasn’t four or five - We decimated them on the glass,” Mack said. “Tonight Trevon probably played 98 percent of his minutes at the three, and because of that we were able to play Sean (O’Mara) and James a little more, knowing that Murray State was more of a traditional team. I think that helped our rebounding, keeping Trevon at the three and those guys at the four/five.”
After the hard foul on Macura and the ejections, Mack had one more surprise left for the Cintas faithful as freshman Edmond Sumner made his Xavier debut during the dead ball. He looked like he was pressing in his first game, anxious to show the fans in attendance what he can do. He finished 0-of-3 from the field, including 0-of-1 from 3-point range, with three assists, one steal and one turnover in nine minutes. It wasn’t a performance indicative of the freshman guard’s talents, but he did get a chance to flash his ultra-quick crossover and tight handle on a few possessions.
“I think he did fairly well tonight,” Farr said. “He may not think so, but I think he did fairly well for his first college game. He’ll keep getting better though. I’m not worried about Edmond. He’ll make a great strides in the future.”
Xavier will take on San Diego in the first round of the Wooden Legacy holiday tournament in Anaheim on Thanksgiving at 4:30 p.m.