If Xavier needed a reality check coming off a fairly dominant performance in Nashville against Georgia, it received one on Saturday afternoon during an 80-56 win over Division II Ferris State.
The Musketeers cruised to victory but their play was rather uninspiring for a team ranked in the top 10 nationally. The offense was sloppy and didn't find any type of rhythm until the final 10 minutes of the second half. Ferris State didn't have anyone nearly talented enough to guard Edmond Sumner as he led Xavier with 23 points. Trevon Bluiett added 19, and JP Macura had 16.
In other words, Chris Mack and his coaching staff will have plenty of nits to pick this week during practice.
"It was ugly," Mack said. "We have a lot to get better at this week. I don't think we're any different than a lot of teams around the country. I didn't think we played particularly well, especially on offense in the first half."
It's no surprise that the Musketeers were led by their top three players - that's going to happen a lot this season - but they definitely need more production out of the supporting cast and cleaner play from those three stars compared to what they received on Saturday.
"We were very impatient," Mack said. "We haven't played a lot of five-on-five because of our numbers and it showed offensively. We do a lot of things four-on-four and when you do that guys tend to get open a little bit quicker and there's more space on the floor and so we shoot a little bit shorter into the shot clock."
Malcolm Bernard was the only other player that showed up for the Musketeers as he posted nine points (4-5 FG, 1-2 FT), 10 boards, and four assists with only one turnover in 33 minutes.
XU led 35-23 at halftime and outscored the Bulldogs 45-33 in the second half.
Xavier had a rough shooting day, finishing 17-of-33 from the free throw line and 5-of-14 from 3-point range. Bluiett was 1-for-6 from deep and Macura was 3-for-3. Walk-on Leighton Schrand also banked in a three in the final minutes. The Musketeers improved their free throw shooting in the second half, knocking down 11-of-15 (73.3%) from the line after making just 6-of-18 (33.3%) in the first. They also hit 4-of-8 from three in the second half, after going 1-for-6 in the first.
"Our free throw shooting needs more than a little bit of work," Mack said. "It's different for a player when they get in front of a crowd. And it shouldn't be - we should carry over what we do in practice right on to game night - but there is a little bit of a difference and we experienced that today which is why you have the exhibition."
Early substitutions may have been part of the reason the Musketeers struggled to find a flow on offense. Macura and Goodin each had three fouls in the first half, and Gaston picked up two early ones, forcing Mack to utilize his short bench early and often.
Another issue for the Xavier offense was turnovers. The Musketeers had 14 miscues for the game, nine of which came in the first half before Mack settled his troops down by running some set plays for easy baskets.
"All nine of our turnovers in the first half were by experienced perimeter players," Mack said. "JP, Ed, Tre… they have to be better than that. They have to grab the horse by the reins and make sure we get into something. We did that better in the second half. We called a few more set plays which settles our team down, but I wanted to see us play with our flow game… more of a continuity in the first half rather than set plays and we did not do that very well. That's a point of improvement for us this coming week."
Mack also called the play of his post players, "mediocre at best." Starter Sean O'Mara, in particular, struggled, finishing 0-for-6 from the field with no points and five boards. RaShid Gaston had four points (1-2 FG, 2-6 FT) and four boards, and Tyrique Jones had four points (2-3 FG, 0-4 FT), five boards (three offensive), and two blocks.
"They’re never going to be great scorers for us but we had 8 points out of our three true big guys," Mack said. "Didn’t shoot a high percentage from the field. Missed a ton of free throws. We rebounded OK but we still gave up 15 offensive rebounds. We’re going to be playing a lot bigger frontcourts than what we faced today."
Bluiett and Bernard tied for the team-lead with 10 rebounds each. Four of Bernard's were of the offensive variety where he was very active crashing the glass from the perimeter. Sumner also added seven boards, so perimeter rebounding was definitely a bright spot for X.
Sumner shared some of the credit with the big men for boxing their men out and allowing XU's tall guards to come in and corral rebounds.
"The bigs are a little different this year," Sumner said. "You don't have James and Jalen just grabbing (rebounds) at the rim. With them boxing out, we have a lot of tall guards. Malcolm and Tre have always been good rebounders, but for me, that was one of my weaknesses, and Coach Mack emphasized that to me so that was one of my focuses."
Defensively, X played well for the most part in terms of making Ferris State attempt tough shots. However, they struggled to defend without fouling. The Bulldogs only shot 26.5 percent from the field for the game, but they were 17-of-22 from the free throw line.
"We gave up way too many free throw attempts because we weren't moving our feet and were using our hands too much," Mack said.
The Musketeers will tip the regular season off on Friday night when they host Lehigh. Game time is set for 7 pm.
This game gave us a lot of different personnel looks from the Musketeers in the first half as all eight of their scholarship players saw the court in the first three minutes. A large part of that was due to foul trouble. By the second media timeout of the first half, JP Macura, Quentin Goodin, and RaShid Gaston all had two fouls.
We saw Chris Mack go big. We saw him go small. We saw him play two point guards. It was a good look at how the staff will try to handle rotations early on in the season without Kaiser Gates and Myles Davis.
Here's a look at the combinations we saw the Musketeers use in the first half:
- Starters: Sumner, Macura, Bernard, Bluiett, O'Mara
- Goodin, Sumner, Bernard, Bluiett, O'Mara
- Goodin Sumner, Bernard, Bluiett, Gaston
- Goodin, Sumner, Bluiett, Gaston, O'Mara
- Sumner, Macura, Bluiett, O'Mara, Jones
- Sumner, Bernard, Stainbrook, Bluiett, O'Mara
- Sumner, Macura, Stainbrook, Bluiett, Gaston
- Sumner, Macura, Bluiett, Gaston, Jones
- Sumner, Stainbrook, Bluiett, Gaston, Jones
- Sumner, Bernard, Bluiett, Gaston, Jones
- Sumner, Bernard, Bluiett, Gaston, O'Mara
With about 14 minutes left in the second half, X threw out one more combination, this time going with its smallest lineup of the day.
- Sumner, Macura, Bernard, Bluiett and Jones
Highlights from the first half included:
- Sumner eurostepped past a big man in transition and finished despite getting fouled
- Goodin drove his man and finished a floater over him during his first offensive possession on the court
- Jones had an impressive chase from behind block off the backboard after missing free throws
- Bernard lobbed an oop to Sumner on a set play and Sumner had to reach back one-handed to catch it but still managed to flush it with authority
- On X's final possession, a high ball screen was set for Sumner and he exploded through the lane for a tomahawk dunk.
- X went to the 1-3-1 zone with 6:15 left in the first half. Sumner, Macura, Stainbrook, Bluiett, and Gaston were on the floor. They then subbed Jones in for Stainbrook and stayed in it off and on for the rest of the half.
- The bigs - O'Mara, Gaston, and Jones - combined for just 3 points and 10 rebounds in the first half. They also went just 1-for-9 at the free throw line. Those guys don't have to be big-time scorers, but I expect more against Division II competition.
- As a team, the Musketeers were just 6-of-18 from the free throw line and 1-of-6 from 3-point range. That isn't something that would worry me much, because I think this team will shoot the ball well this season, but it was tough to watch for the first 20 minutes.
- X was too sloppy and careless with the ball, turning it over nine times before halftime. Sumner and Bluiett each had three, while Macura had two. Those three are better than that. However, the Musketeers didn't give up a single point off of those turnovers, outscoring the Bulldogs 9-0 in points off turnovers.
Highlights from the second half included:
- Sumner showed off the full arsenal in the second half. He constantly got into the lane, finished through contact, hit a mid-range J off the bounce, and dished out a few nice assists.
- Bernard drove left baseline and then rose up for a right-handed dunk over the front of the rim.
- Jones caught a drop off pass low on the baseline and rose up for a two-handed slam.
- Macura swished threes on back-to-back possessions with about three minutes to go.
- Goodin had a tough day. He looked confident early, taking his man off the dribble a few times, but he couldn't stay out of foul trouble. He also got hung on the rim on a dunk attempt, was reamed by Mack heading into a timeout for missing some type of assignment, and was only able to finish one of his five shot attempts. The freshman has plenty of talent but Saturday was clearly a learning experience for him.
- JP Macura was perfect from the field going 6-for-6, including 3-for-3 from 3-point range. He also had four assists and two turnovers. He was good when he was on the court, but he only played 20 minutes because of foul trouble.
- X outscored Ferris 38-22 in the paint, 13-6 off turnovers, and 15-8 off fast breaks. However, the Bulldogs outscored the Musketeers 15-7 on second chance points and 25-13 in bench points.