Xavier coach Chris Mack phrased it perfectly in the pregame press conference on Tuesday inside the Cintas Center media room. He called the Crosstown Shootout ‘a player’s game,’ noting that kids that haven’t played as big of a role throughout the season often step up and make plays in the rivalry matchup.
The Shootout’s history is rich with special moments and performances from heroes of Cincinnati and Xavier’s past. Fans of either team recall the rivalry’s top games simply by stating the name of the player who marked his place in Shootout history that specific night. It’s not the Crosstown Shootout of ’96-97 – it’s the Lenny Brown game. No one refers to the 2002 Crosstown Shootout – it’s the David West game.
Xavier’s 59-57 win over Cincinnati at Fifth Third Arena Wednesday night will be remembered as the Dee Davis game. The Musketeers’ senior point guard scored a game-high 16 points while draining all five of his 3-point attempts and dishing out eight assists with only one turnover in a memorable Shootout battle.
“It’s always good to beat your rival team, but at the same time, it was my last time going at it [against Cincinnati],” Davis said. “I had a lot of fun with my teammates out there. I had a pretty good game shooting the ball, and it was the first one in a long time. It came at the right time.”
Cincinnati’s matchup zone defense focused its attention on Xavier’s post players and other shooters. The Bearcats walked away from Davis on the perimeter, daring him to shoot.
"We scouted two shooters," Cincinnati sophomore guard Troy Caupain said. "And then the scouting report on No. 11 said that he was shooting 18 percent from three (in conference play). He came out in the first half and was 4-for-4 from three."
“Dee Davis, that’s what seniors do. This was his best game in a Xavier uniform," Mack said. "Certain guys shy away from the big moment. Certain guys step up, and obviously, Dee [Davis] did that. That is what you need in this type of game. There are certain times when no matter what I want to call offensively, guys can’t hear me. That is when players have to rely on instincts that they have. They have to rely on what we have been running and who they need to get the ball to. They have to make poised decisions down the stretch.”
While Davis was one of the few seniors playing in this year’s game, in many ways he was one of the more unlikely heroes for a Xavier team that doesn’t lack offensive weapons. The coaching staff has asked him to be a distributor that gets his teammates involved on the offensive end, and he’s done that while sacrificing his personal statistics.
“I pride myself on being a consummate point guard, which is doing what your team needs you to do,” Davis said. “When guys are making shots, I am going to make sure they get open looks, but if it means I need to make shots for us to continue to win, I’m going to shoot the ball.”
Both teams flexed their individual strengths – with Xavier its offense, and Cincinnati its defense – throughout the game. There were big scoring swings for each side, with Xavier building a 12-point lead by halftime and leading by double-digits up until the 14-minute mark of the second half. The Bearcats’ defense then clamped down and allowed their offense to slowly but surely climb back into the game with the aid of a raucous home crowd.
Xavier lost its lead, but made the plays during the final possessions to steal a “road” win from its archrival.
Davis’ heroics played out over the course of the full 40 minutes; he played every one of them. He hit four of his threes in the first half, but his final one, which came with 52 seconds left and his team down by two, was the biggest.
Mack didn’t necessarily expect his pass-first point guard to be the breakout star coming into Wednesday night, but he’s had enough experience in the Shootout to know not to doubt a senior with a hot hand. The Musketeers typically run all of their set plays to get 3-point looks for guys like Trevon Bluiett, Myles Davis or J.P. Macura, but on that possession with just under a minute to play Mack called Dee Davis’ number.
After throwing to Stainbrook in the high post and rubbing off his hip, Davis set a cross screen for Macura on the right block and then came flying up to the right wing off a down screen set by Jalen Reynolds just under the free-throw line. He confidently buried the shot to put his team up 56-55 and break an over five minute scoring drought for the Musketeers. The Bearcats had held Xavier without a field goal since James Farr’s jumper with 8:26 left prior to that.
Mack’s squad still had to make a few more plays to pull off the road win. Caupain grabbed an offensive rebound off Farad Cobb’s missed 3-pointer on the ensuing possession and then made a pair of free throws after being fouled by Jalen Reynolds. That put the Bearcats back on top, 57-56 with 19 seconds left.
Bluiett was fouled at the other end by Cincinnati freshman Gary Clark, who unsuccessfully attempted to steal Macura’s pass and then was forced to reach out and grab Bluiett. The Big East Freshman of the Year candidate sank the go-ahead free throws with 11 seconds left for his first points of the game.
Had it not been for that mental lapse on the defensive end, this game very well could have been remembered as the Gary Clark game. The freshman forward made a statement in his first shootout while helping get Cincinnati back in the game during the second half. He finished with a team-high 14 points on 7-of-11 shooting to go with seven rebounds, and finished over, around and through each of Xavier’s post players during an impressive second half scoring outburst.
“(Gary Clark) is going to be a force for four years,” Mack said.
The Musketeers sealed the win with a stop at the other end when Dee Davis flew out at Cobb and forced him to put it on the deck. When he took a dribble to the side and re-squared to shoot, Reynolds lunged out for a late contest and Myles Davis boxed out Shaq Thomas underneath to come away with the rebound.
“It felt amazing because the play before that I let [Troy] Caupain get an offensive rebound, and I felt horrible because I gave away two free throws,” Myles Davis said. “Luckily, Trevon [Bluiett] got fouled, and I told the bench I would get this back for us. I have to make this up. It just so happens we played good defense. Shaq Thomas tried to crash, and I did what we do every day. Guards get bashed every single day about boxing out, and I had the perfect chance to do so.”
A quick glance at the boxscore would show that Cincinnati took care of the keys of the game. The Bearcats dictated the pace, scored 18 points off of 15 Xavier turnovers, won the rebounding battle and outscored X 16-5 in second chance points, neutralized three of X’s most dangerous scorers in Bluiett, Reynolds and Stainbrook, and outscored the Musketeers 8-5 in fastbreak points.
“The biggest key coming into the game was not to let them have transition baskets,” Cincinnati coach Larry Davis said. “Then once you get in the halfcourt, their M.O. most of the season has been that they kill you inside. Stainbrook has seven, Reynolds has seven – If you would have said coming into the game those guys would have seven a piece, I would have felt pretty good about where we’re at. And we were. We were in position to win the game.”
“Dee Davis, tip my hat to him.”
The difference in the game was Xavier making 10-of-17 from 3-point range, while Cincinnati hit just 4-of-16. Five of the Musketeers threes came from their fifth-leading scorer.
This one will be remembered as the Dee Davis game.