Xavier took care of business on the road Saturday afternoon, cruising to an 86-65 win over the DePaul Blue Demons.
After a slow start on the offensive end, the Musketeers took control late in the first half and found a rhythm, placing five scorers in double figures. Trevon Bluiett led the way with 15 points, and JP Macura added 12, but sophomore point guard Larry Austin's performance stood out the most.
Austin finished with 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting to go with five rebounds, four assists, one steal and one turnover in 17 minutes of action.
"He was outstanding," Chris Mack told 700WLW after the win. "Best game in a Xavier uniform. He's practiced like that the last couple of practices. I'm sure coming back to Illinois he wanted to show out for his friends and family - boy, did he. I think it started on the defensive end with his intensity. You need guys like that."
The Musketeers weren't making shots to start the game, and DePaul big man Tommy Hamilton buried three 3-pointers on pick-and-pop situations at the other end in the first half. He helped the Blue Demons build a nine-point lead over the first three minutes, and finished with 15 points and five rebounds in 28 minutes overall.
Xavier stuck with its halfcourt Pack-Line defense until there was 3:13 left in the first half, before switching to the 1-3-1 zone. The Musketeers were down 32-25 at the time, but held DePaul without a field goal and finished the half on a 17-1 run to take a 42-33 lead at intermission.
Austin played just four minutes in the first half - a stretch which included a nice and-one finish off a cut to the basket from an assist by Jalen Reynolds, as well as two assists of his own. However, he also had a few shaky offensive possessions and a turnover when he was first inserted into the game.
Xavier kept the momentum rolling into the second half by coming out of the locker rooms on a 6-0 run to make it 23-1 going back to the final minutes of the first half. That put the Musketeers up by 15, 48-33.
From there, they continued to push their lead higher and came away with an easy road win.
Austin finished off another old-fashioned 3-point play with 13:20 to play on a cut to the basket and an assist from Farr out of the post. In a later stint with 6:14 to play in the game, he bullied Aaron Simpson into the lane and finished with a floater after being fouled.
In the final four minute war, it was clear Austin's confidence had picked up. He was assertive running the offense, and was playing with great pace and energy.
With 3:42 to play, he attacked Eli Cain's late closeout by blowing past him and burying a pull-up 15-foot jumper over Erten Gazi. The Demons continued to disrespect him on the defensive end by putting Gazi on him. Austin drove right by him on the left wing and finished on the right side for two with 1:56 to put Xavier up 83-60.
Also, for most of the time he was on the court, Austin was guarding DePaul's top guard, Billy Garrett Jr.
For those of you who don't follow me on twitter, it's like missing out on a constant battle to see how corny I can make my tweets. I don't know why it's that way, but it tends to keep it lighthearted and has led to some great material that's lived on and provided us with entertainment for a while. Anyways, somewhere during that Austin storm of activity, I tweeted the following:
Which drew the ire of Xavier celebrity tweeter, CJ Anderson.
Aside from me getting cryingjordanfacememe.jpeg'ed on twitter.com, here's what I meant:
The best way I can describe Larry Austin during a Xavier practice is… well, annoying. He's the guy on the team who does every single little thing the coach wants you to do, and he does it on every. single. play. Plus, he's overly physical, emotional, and aggressive the entire time, and he never shuts up. He brings a very similar vibe to that of Xavier's second all-time winningest player Dante Jackson.
During Saturday's game, he was all of that. His body was everywhere on both ends of the court, he was annoying the other team, he was making loud noises when communicating with his teammates, and he was emotionally pleading with the officials. Most importantly, he had confidence. That's the Larry Austin I see in practice, and it was the first time I've seen that Larry Austin in a game.
And that Larry Austin that Xavier saw on Saturday was a guy that can be a help down the stretch as the Musketeers head towards the postseason. Austin has always been a great defender, and with all of Xavier's offensive weapons, he's consistently going to see opponent's second- or third-best backcourt defenders guarding him on the offensive end. Saturday he played with enough confidence to attack those lesser defenders (Simpson, Gazi) off the bounce, which also made it easier for him to run XU's offense as a point guard and distributor.
Edmond Sumner and Myles Davis are clearly the team's two best options at point guard, but if one were to get hurt or in foul trouble, then there's no question that the other would need spelled as the primary ballhandler. Also, Austin has always been one of the team's top defenders, so if he plays with enough confidence to add something on the offensive end, then he can make it easier to match-up against opposing athletic backcourts on defense.
At one point during Saturday's game, I also tweeted the following:
And last year's point guard, Dee Davis - a guy who had to play against Austin every day in practice for a full year - liked it. I like to think it's because he knew exactly WTF I was talking about when it came to Larry Austin.