Georgetown slowed down some of Xavier’s top options on Saturday, but the Musketeers had too many weapons.
Edmond Sumner finished with a career-high 22 points and the Hoyas couldn’t solve the Musketeers’ 1-3-1 zone defense as Xavier cruised to an 88-70 win at the Verizon Center.
In the first half, leading scorer Trevon Bluiett and junior guard Myles Davis, who was coming off a triple-double against Providence Wednesday night, were mostly non-factors; but Sumner took over and carried the offense. The combination of his aggressive play and the Musketeers’ 1-3-1 allowed the visitors to go on a 19-4 run and take a two-point lead into halftime.
After halftime, Bluiett and the rest of the team pitched in with Sumner on the offensive end. A 13-0 run to start the second half put the game away. Xavier made 15-of-16 attempts from 2-point range after intermission. James Farr added 14 points (4-6 FG) and five rebounds, Bluiett had 13 points (5-10 FG), and JP Macura added 12 points (5-7 FG).
Coming off a game in which he limped off the court and sat the final 17 minutes due to tendonitis inflammation, Sumner showed no lingering effects on Saturday. In fact, the extra day off of practice on Thursday as a precautionary measure appeared to give him a little extra juice against the Hoyas.
Sumner was attacking from the opening tip. He kept the defense honest by popping some jumpers early, including a three from the top of the key, and he pushed the ball in transition any chance he had. The Hoyas rotated defenders on him – using D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Isaac Copeland, and Tre Campbell – and he was aggressive in looking to score on all of them. On one possession, he pushed the ball up the floor and forced the Hoyas to scramble to matchup in transition, ending up with center Jessie Govan guarding him. He paused for a second to let the lane clear, and then blew right past him for an easy two.
He scored 13 of his 22 points in the first half, but continued to put pressure on Georgetown’s defense after halftime by pushing the ball in transition and driving by multiple defenders in the halfcourt. Simply put, he was the best player on the court. He added three assists and two rebounds with no turnovers.
When we talk about the amount of weapons on this Xavier team, we’re typically referring to the depth of personnel. But we should start thinking about the 1-3-1 zone as part of that arsenal. The zone has occasionally been miscast as a crutch for this team - the knock being that the Musketeers over-rely on it when they can’t match-up with the opposition. And to an extent, it can be used to get them out of bad matchups, such as against the team it was implemented for last year, Providence and Kris Dunn.
But at this point, with this team, it’s much more than that.
The Musketeers, like every other team in the country this season, have shown that they have some flaws on the defensive end. However, they’ve more than held their own. Opponents are shooting 41.6 percent and averaging .841 points per possession in halfcourt sets against their man-to-man, and they’re currently ranked 17th in the country in defensive efficiency according to KenPom. Even against opponents that have given them matchup problems, the effort in man-to-man has been good enough to keep them in games, giving them a chance to win in the end.
When they throw the zone out there, it can totally disrupt the other team’s offensive flow. It’s unorthodox, it’s funky, it’s something other teams can’t spend too much time practicing against throughout the season, and it suits Xavier’s personnel perfectly. It plays to the strengths of guys like Sumner and JP Macura, making them more valuable on defense, and rebounders like Farr and Reynolds ensure that they don’t get abused on the glass. Opponents are averaging .762 points per possession and shooting 35 percent from the field when the Musketeers are in the 1-3-1 zone.
Familiarity against the zone has seemed to help some of the teams in the Big East the second time they see Xavier. And yet, it still hasn’t helped any of them enough to win the rematch against the Musketeers. More importantly, opponents facing X on short turnarounds in the NCAA tournament will have virtually no time to prepare for it to a point where they’d feel comfortable.
Xavier doesn’t necessarily need the 1-3-1, but the zone can be every bit as impactful a weapon as a go-to scorer getting hot on the offensive end. Saturday’s win at Georgetown demonstrated that again.
The 18-point win over the Hoyas was an impressive start to a revenge tour of sorts for the Musketeers. Now, we wait for Wednesday when they have the opportunity to exact the ultimate revenge on a team that’s owned them since they entered the Big East conference, No. 1-ranked Villanova.