They are who we thought they were.
Xavier ended its three-game losing skid with an 86-75 win over Georgetown Sunday afternoon at the Cintas Center, keeping with the pattern of this year's season that's seen the Musketeers out-tough and out-execute lesser opponents. They dominated the glass, grabbing 35.5 percent of available offensive boards and 96 percent of its defensive opportunities while limiting the Hoyas to one offensive rebound and gaining a 7-0 edge in second-chance points. They also earned a 25-point advantage at the free-throw line while drawing 34 fouls and knocking down 36-of-49 (73.5%) attempts compared to Georgetown's 11-of-14 (78.6%) performance.
"I know amongst the coaching staff there is (a sense of relief)," Mack said. "I think our team has done a really good job of coming to practice with energy, just being ready to go in the next drill. It gives you a comforting feeling as a coach, however, you still want to go out there and win the game. You feel an inordinate amount of pressure because you're used to winning and you're schedule doesn't get any easier. I know a lot of people made a lot out of the three opponents that we had but, like, Georgetown's rolling in here with a lot of talent. A team that we beat on the road and a team that's trying to find itself after the Providence game, so they come in desperate. Winning's not easy at this level and we never take it for granted. I'm just really happy we were able to do what we needed to do - get to the foul line and rebound the ball at a high level - in order to win."
Perhaps most relevant to the Musketeers getting back on the winning track: their stars played like stars.
Trevon Bluiett finished with 24 points and five boards while hitting 7-of-15 from the field, including 3-of-5 from deep. JP Macura added 20 points (5-9 FG, 0-3 3PT, 10-14 FTs), five rebounds, four assists, and three steals. Plus, Edmond Sumner posted 14 points (3-7 FG, 8-11), a team-high seven rebounds, seven assists, and one turnover.
Bluiett's effort was particularly notable because he had been struggling with his outside shot so much coming into Sunday. He's shooting 32.6 percent from the outside and was a combined 2-for-17 in the last three games.
"I want him to know that I have the utmost confidence in his ability," Mack said. "I didn't say, 'Hey, start taking less shots. Start driving the ball more.' We talked a lot about a way to get yourself going when you're a scorer like he is, is go get some cheap ones. Go offensive rebound. Get lost in the game defensively. And I thought he did that."
Malcolm Bernard also stepped up with a big game for the Musketeers. He had 12 points, three rebounds, two assists and three turnovers. In addition to posting his season-high in points and giving his typical solid defensive effort, he had a part in multiple key plays for Xavier.
XU's performance on Sunday didn't seem all that different from what we've seen most of the year from this team, but, for fans trying to find optimism moving forward, the Musketeers hit the big shots and made the big plays down the stretch that had eluded them in losses at Butler and at home to Creighton.
Xavier posted 52 second half points and averaged 1.33 points per possession while shooting 50 percent from the field, including 4-of-6 from deep.
After growing a one-point halftime lead into a 12-point edge by the 16-minute mark, the Musketeers watched as that lead quickly evaporated. Georgetown responded with a 14-3 run over the next six minutes, cutting its deficit to one point on a layup by Rodney Pryor.
"I thought there was a stretch of about four or five minutes in the second half where we gave up layups down the lane that were inexcusable," Mack said of his team's defense. "We quickly adjusted. It's a very difficult offense to guard. We didn't want to give up second shots. A couple of their guys that aren't necessarily 3-point shooters hit a couple and a couple of guys that don't necessarily play a whole lot came in and hit a couple, so… live to fight another day."
The game was won over the ensuing two minutes.
Bluiett hit a three from the right corner on a kick-out from Bernard to push X's lead back to four. It was a shot that very much seemed to have a "we're going to be alright" effect on the Musketeers, even though the Hoyas didn't immediately go away.
Georgetown tied the game moments later following two more buckets by Pryor.
That's when Sumner, despite clearly being bothered by his left shoulder that was wrapped with a black brace, took over. He broke the tie with a jumper off the dribble. He then grabbed a rebound and went coast-to-coast, finishing through contact for an and-one. His free-throw made it a five-point game again.
When Pryor cut X's lead back to three with his fourth consecutive bucket for Georgetown, Sumner made a huge play when he used his quickness to shoot through a gap and snatch a long loose-ball rebound off a missed jumper from Jessie Govan. Sumner immediately fired a pass ahead to Bluiett who laid it in at the other end for an easy two.
Bluiett broke the Hoyas' spirit with 6:14 to play when he buried a short-corner jumper while being fouled by Govan. The made free throw pushed X's lead to seven, 68-61. Georgetown never really threatened again.
"I thought we got out in transition and I thought Ed got to the basket a few times," Mack said. "We started to execute a little better against their zone, but again, it's tough to play a good team. You fight confidence issues when you come off a three-game losing streak. You get up 10, it comes back to almost even, I thought our guys battled some mental demons and did a great job."
Bernard sealed the win with a three from the left corner on a drive-and-kick from Sumner with two minutes left to extend X's lead to double-digits, 77-66.
"I don't know if it's contagious," Bernard said of the big shots late in games. "Shots are made when you shoot the ball during the flow of the game. I don't look at it as being contagious. It definitely felt good because obviously, we've been struggling these last three games to make plays so it felt good for that to happen, especially going to play UC."
Sunday's win over Georgetown didn't reveal much about the Musketeers, but it did prove that they weren't caught in a vortex of turmoil that was sure to derail their season following a three-game losing streak to three teams ranked in the top 12 of the current national polls. Now they have to prove they can replicate Sunday's performance while going into a hostile environment and taking on a more worthy opponent on Thursday.
"I've heard it's going to be one of the most fun games of the year," Bernard said of what teammates have told him about the Crosstown Shootout, as Macura nodded along and smiled. "I'm looking forward to it. Crazy rivalry from what I've been told. Crazy atmosphere… So, I'm definitely stoked."