There was good news and bad news for Xavier fans in the Musketeers' 81-72 win over Miami Friday night at the Cintas Center in front of a crowd of 10,372.
The bad news first: Xavier struggled to put away a Miami team picked to finish sixth in a seven-team MAC East division.
The good: Freshman point guard Edmond Sumner lived up to the hype in his first game as Xavier's floor general.
Despite only playing eight minutes in the first half as a disciplinary measure for a technical foul, Sumner led the Musketeers with 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting, including 1-of-1 from beyond the arc. He was also 4-of-8 at the free-throw line and had two rebounds, one assist and three turnovers. Furthermore, he showed the confidence and tenacity needed to be an impact player at the high-major Division I level.
JP Macura added 17 points in the win for Xavier, Jalen Reynolds had a double-double with 16 points and 15 boards, and Trevon Bluiett reached double-digits with 10 points.
The Musketeers struggled defensively in the first half as they allowed the Redhawks to score 40 points while averaging 1.21 points per possession. Miami senior point guard Eric Washington carved the Musketeers up for 19 points total, 10 of which came in the first half. For the game he was 4-of-6 shooting from the field, including 3-of-4 from 3-point range, and 8-of-10 from the free throw line. He also had seven assists, four rebounds and two steals with five turnovers.
"I think it was communication, just not being locked in, not being ready," Senior Remy Abell said. "But like coach mentioned at halftime, that's the biggest thing, defense. No matter who we play we have to take defense seriously, because that's what wins games. Offense will come."
"We have to get stops. Giving up 40 points to Miami of Ohio we felt like was unacceptable."
In the second half, it was the offense that looked disoriented at times as the Musketeers scored just 31 points and averaged .97 points per possession. Xavier went through a seven-plus minute drought after the first media timeout of the second half, which allowed Miami to trim what was once a 14-point lead down to just a one-point deficit, 61-60, with 6:57 to play.
The Redhawks stagnated Xavier's flow by trapping and changing up the way they defended ball screens.
"They made it a difficult game for us offensively, especially in the second half," Mack said. "We couldn't necessarily run anything smoothly because they really trapped whether it was the first pass or an entry pass into a set play or an initial ball screen to start a particular set, they just threw two men on the ball and forced us to play more instinctive. And we struggled with that."
Sumner wasn't perfect, but he was at least aggressive. He scored 13 of his points in the second half, and was instrumental in helping Xavier build that initial 14-point lead.
"We didn't really practice (Miami) downing ball screens," Sumner said. "They kept switching. Sometimes they would down them and sometimes they would play it straight up. So we never knew what to expect. They were trying to play the passing lanes a lot, so that opened the lanes up. I just wanted to drive and make plays."
Sumner was fearless from the opening tip. He sent a statement to that effect near the eight-minute mark of the first half when he beat his defender baseline and rose up for a two-handed slam. He was whistled for a technical foul after pulling himself up on the rim to avoid a defender, but the excitement of the play outweighed the penalty.
"He is fearless, despite his frame," Mack said. "He's extremely aggressive and he gets in the lane better than anyone our team."
The most notable part of Sumner's performance on Friday night was how easily he led the team in scoring and made a major impact without playing anywhere near his potential. He showed his inexperience at times with his turnovers, and he's still finding his way on the defensive end.
"He's super quick and he finishes better than any point guard I've had at the rim because he's 6-6," Mack said. "But he was shaky at times. He has to be able to handle a trap. I know he's thin, but he has to be stronger with the ball and know his looks. He just has to be a guy that uses these games as experience so the next time he's in this situation, he's not getting three turnovers."
Reynolds thinks Sumner was just scratching the surface on Friday.
"Edmond brings speed, rebounding, athleticism," Reynolds said. "I think the sky is the limit for Edmond, man. If he just keeps playing as hard as he's playing, he's going to be a great player here at Xavier."