Xavier went into the Wooden Legacy tournament in California with a mission – to reverse its recent trend of flaming out in holiday exempt events. The Musketeers entered Thursday with a 6-9 record over the last five years in such events under Chris Mack. During that stretch they’ve suffered losses to Marquette, Baylor, Old Dominion, Long Beach State, Hawaii, Pacific, Iowa, Tennessee and USC.
Sunday afternoon they wrapped up another losing trip to a warm weather destination over the extended Thanksgiving weekend with a 73-71 loss to Long Beach State, a team they beat 97-74 on November 21 at the Cintas Center. The Musketeers also lost in the semifinals of the tournament to UTEP, 77-73, Friday afternoon.
Xavier came into the game ranked 306th in the nation in 3-point defense, allowing opponents to shoot 39.6 percent from beyond the arc. It’s an issue that’s been apparent in most games that the Musketeers have played so far, and it has allowed inferior opponents to hang around. Sunday that trend continued. Their struggles defending the perimeter combined with a cold shooting performance on the offensive end was the difference in the loss.
The Muskies were ice cold from the outside, connecting on just 2-of-16 attempts, both coming from Myles Davis. Long Beach State pumped in 10-of-22 (45.5%) from 3-point range, and continued to get great looks throughout the second half after it was clear the Miners were in the midst of a good shooting day. Their effort raised Xavier’s opponents’ 3-point shooting percentage to 40.6 percent, and dropped the Musketeers’ to 313th in the nation in 3-point defense.
“I thought the difference in the game was shooting,” Chris Mack said. “We just have to shoot better than that in order to win games. We have a really good shooting team, but today we didn’t shoot the ball well.”
In both his comments on the radio and the postgame press conference, Mack insinuated that there may be change coming on the defensive end if necessary to figure out a solution to slowing down opponents’ 3-point shooting.
“I don’t know, but we have to fix it. It is happening too frequently if our team wants to improve,” Mack said. “At times players are giving good effort and at other times they are giving an inconsistent effort. We’re getting roasted on the perimeter right now, and it’s not just Long Beach. It’s a lot of the teams we have played. We have to figure this out. For the most part, we are doing a decent job around the basket playing strong and rebounding. The ball just seems to be going in on the other end of the floor way too much from the 3-point line.”
Now Xavier will get five days off to reflect, recharge and regroup before hosting an SEC opponent in Alabama at the Cintas Center on Saturday night.
The first half went pretty well for the Musketeers on Sunday. They traded baskets with Long Beach through a slow and sloppy opening stretch, but then began to pull away and held their largest lead of the game, 36-16 with 2:51 left in the half.
The 49ers’ leading scorer, Mike Caffey, buried one of his five threes on the ensuing possession after Xavier stretched its lead to double-digits, and then Tyler Lamb hit a three and a jumper on consecutive possessions to make it a 3-point game, 28-25, at halftime.
Xavier’s energy was good and its defense was impressive through the first half. Those late threes by Caffey and Lamb were the only two the 49ers hit in the first 20 minutes, as they were 2-for-11 from the perimeter at halftime. As a team, they were just 10-of-31 from the field (32.3%).
The Musketeers, who have been great so far this season on the offensive end by almost any metric used, had major trouble making shots. In the loss to UTEP on Friday, they had issues finishing around the rim and got beat on the boards but they hit 8-of-19 threes. Sunday, they struggled to finish around the rim, and they went 0-for-6 in the first half from the perimeter.
Long Beach State stole away some momentum, and possibly the win, in the first several minutes of the second half. Caffey buried three 3-pointers and Lamb added a fourth in a two-minute and 15-second span as part of a 20-11 run that put the 49ers ahead 45-39 just after the 15:00 mark.
“The tone was really set in the second half when we gave up 17 points in the first four and half minutes before the media timeout,” Mack said. “That was a tone set in the wrong direction. The first four minutes out of halftime, and shooting percentages were the difference in the game.”
Caffey finished with a game-high 24 points on 8-of-18 shooting, including 5-of-8 from 3-point range. Lamb added 16 (2-3 3PT) and freshman big man Temidayo Yussuf had 15.
”There are a lot of things we need to work on. It’s what these preseason tournaments can do. They can expose you so you can figure out what you need to get better at. We’re going to take this next week to try and improve our team.”
The 49ers held the lead for much of the second half, but four points from Matt Stainbrook and the team’s first 3-pointer of the game from Myles Davis put the Musketeers ahead 61-60 just inside the 4:00 mark.
Long Beach sophomore Branford Jones, who finished 3-of-5 from 3-point range with 13 points, buried a three on the ensuing possession to put the 49ers back in front. That was the last time the lead changed.
Stainbrook led Xavier with a double-double, 19 points and 12 boards on 8-of-12 shooting. Myles Davis was the only other Musketeer in double-figures; he scored all 10 of his points in the final four minutes and 31 seconds of action. James Farr added eight points, 11 rebounds, three blocks and two steals.