For the fourth-straight game, Trevon Bluiett was excellent as he led Xavier to a 72-70 win over Seton Hall Wednesday night at the Cintas Center.
Bluiett finished with 24 points on 8-of-14 shooting, including 3-of-6 from deep, with seven rebounds, two assists, and two steals in 36 minutes of action. He also scored the game-winning bucket in the final seconds.
After Khadeen Carrington scored on a drive to tie the game with 11 seconds to play, Chris Mack elected not to call a timeout and instead let Bluiett push the ball up the court. Bluiett drove Carrington to the short corner on the left side, paused momentarily to survey the defense, and then bullied past him for a fading runner while slicing across the lane that rattled in with 4.4 seconds to play.
Seton Hall got one more look at a shot that would have won the game at the buzzer but Carrington's hanging 3-pointer rimmed out, falling safely to the floor and setting off a Cintas Center celebration.
"I'm really proud of our group," Mack said. "I thought we battled all night long. Had that last shot gone in, I would have felt sick for my guys."
It was a gutsy win by a Xavier team that was dealing with a lot of adversity and moving parts.
For Bluiett specifically, he sprained his ankle early in the game when he landed awkwardly after shooting a floater. He changed shoes twice and played through a noticeable limp, but he was money in the clutch when the Musketeers needed his offense the most. He's scored 109 points over his last four games (27.3 ppg), including 24 against Georgetown, 40 at Cincinnati, and 21 at St. John's.
"Trevon was big-time… big-time," Mack said. "He did it on a bum ankle for about 34 of the 40 minutes and the shot at the end was fitting because I thought he competed the entire game. He's certainly had an incredible run and we need him to keep it going."
In addition to Bluiett playing hurt, it was Xavier's first game playing without Edmond Sumner, which caused a lot of shuffling for the coaches. Game-plans had to be changed, a new point guard (JP Macura) had to be used, they switched to a 2-3 zone defense for a few minutes which had only been used on underneath out of bounds plays prior to Wednesday night, and they had to figure out new lineup rotations. Plus, Myles Powell, a freshman guard for Seton Hall averaging 10.2 points and shooting 32 percent from beyond the arc, caught fire and went off for 26 points on 6-of-12 shooting from deep.
The end result was Xavier players stepping up and making plays when it mattered. The Musketeers outscored Seton Hall 44-38 in the second half to overcome a 32-28 halftime deficit on their way to a much-needed win.
"I thought the story of the game was a freshman point guard got better as the game went on," Mack said. "And then, I thought our frontcourt, specifically RaShid and Sean, answered the challenge which was a large one coming in."
Here's a look at three other major takeaways from Xavier's victory over Seton Hall:
Goodin can go
The biggest question coming into this game that needed to be answered for Xavier was whether or not they'd even be able to survive with only one point guard, and a freshman at that, running the team.
Goodin eased those concerns drastically by posting eight points, seven assists, two blocks and a steal with three turnovers in 35 minutes. He struggled to finish off his drives to the rim, going 2-for-11 from the field, but his approach, confidence, and playmaking abilities exceeded any expectations that could have been placed on him coming into the game.
The most impressive part of his performance was the way he closed the game. With Xavier facing its largest deficit, 49-43, with 11:21 to play following a Desi Rodriguez jumper, Goodin responded with his best possessions of the night. He drove the lane and kicked to Kaiser Gates for a three and then he got into the lane and made a beautiful bounce pass to O'Mara for a dunk. After Rodriguez buried a three on the other end to push the Pirates' lead back to 4, Goodin scored on a floater and then got a steal on the other end which led to a breakaway foul and a pair of free-throws for the freshman. He came into the game shooting just 57.1 percent at the charity stripe and missed three straight in the first half but calmly sunk them both to tie the game back up.
Xavier never trailed again.
In the final minute, he had a monster block to deny Powell another 3-pointer that would have tied the game and also sank two more free throws with a 1-point lead and 32 seconds left.
Goodin has parts of his game that he needs to work on, but he plays a mature style of ball for a freshman and his physical tools can't be taught. He plays with good pace, never gets bumped off his path, is unselfish, sees the floor well, and he already fully understands the defense. Maybe most importantly, he now knows his role every single night and that seems to have given him confidence.
Gates gave 'em a lift
Kaiser Gates is the most intriguing player on Xavier's roster at this point of the season. While most of the attention will understandably focus on Goodin with Sumner going down, Gates is the one player who realistically still has significant upside to potentially offer this team right now.
It's probably unfair to ask a freshman point guard to step up and become a consistent source of new offense at this point in the year while providing other key elements for the team, however, Gates is a second-year player that many had high expectations for following a promising freshman campaign during which he had a very limited role.
His role has remained fairly limited this season for a few reasons: First, a knee scope before the season caused him to miss a ton of practices and a few games, which had him behind everyone else when the season started. Second, Malcolm Bernard was able to step in and provide similar services, particularly on the defensive end, which helped him cement his spot in the rotation while Gates was getting up to speed. Also, with three players (Bluiett, Sumner, and Macura) all looking to be "the guy" on the offensive end at times, there hasn't been an opportunity for other players to step up and feel confident about expanding their role as a scorer.
Twenty-two games into the schedule, things are different now.
With Sumner out of the lineup, Gates played a career-high 31 minutes on Wednesday night and finished with his second highest scoring total ever, going 4-of-5 from the field and 3-of-4 from deep with 13 points and eight rebounds. He scored 17 points against St. John's at the Cintas Center on Jan. 7.
In addition to the aforementioned 3-pointer Gates hit on the assist from Goodin after XU had fallen behind by six points in the second half, he also scored five straight points after Goodin tied the game up at 52-52. He buried a 3-pointer off a steal and assist from Bluiett with 9:14 to play and then grabbed an offensive rebound after a missed 3-pointer by Goodin and was fouled on the way back up. His free-throws put the Musketeers ahead 59-54 with 8:36 to go.
He grabbed nine rebounds in 19 minutes at Seton Hall on Sunday and he's long been complemented by the coaches for being one of the team's best defenders. If Gates puts it all together and starts playing with more confidence, he has the tools to be an impact player.
He doesn't necessarily need to score in double-figures every night for this Xavier team to continue winning, but he's going to get the opportunity to show that he's capable of doing so. Wednesday night he looked ready to be a significant contributor going forward. Consider my interest piqued.
The bigs showed up
There's no way around the fact that Xavier's post play hasn't lived up to the level of the coaching staff's preseason expectations. The trio of RaShid Gaston, Sean O'Mara, and Tyrique Jones hasn't been a consistent source of offense against good teams and those guys were embarrassed on the defensive glass by their biggest rival, Cincinnati.
On Wednesday night, they didn't necessarily outplay the Big East's best center, Angel Delgado, but they definitely held their own and kept him from dominating the game. Delgado finished with 13 points (6-15 FG) and 13 rebounds in the loss. For Xavier, O'Mara had his best game of the season, finishing with 11 points (5-7 FG) and five rebounds, while RaShid Gaston had six points (3-8 FG), seven boards, two assists, and a block.
Seton Hall's other post players were total non-factors.
The performance was particularly a good sign for O'Mara who admitted after the game that he had been going through a rough patch recently. He had a strong move in the post for two on one of his first touches of the game and then he did a great job of making himself available along the baseline as a finisher for his driving teammates. He was the beneficiary of some great passes by both Goodin and Bernard and he made the most of those opportunities by dunking the ball with authority on multiple occasions. The Cintas Center gave him a strong ovation at one point in the second half when he checked out.
Gaston's toughness and effort on defense and on the glass made a big difference for the Musketeers. Four of his rebounds came on the offensive end. He still had some struggles finishing around the rim, but he ended up playing the most minutes out of the three bigs because of his contributions in those other areas.
Tyrique Jones started the game but only played five minutes and finished with two rebounds. Mack said after the game that Jones rebounded well but missed a few defensive assignments early, adding that his lack of minutes had more to do with how well Gaston and O'Mara played than anything he did wrong.
For a couple of upperclassmen who had lost a good chunk of their minutes to a freshman recently, O'Mara and Gaston competed against Delgado like they had something to prove. That's a good sign for Xavier fans.