Scoring points was already a struggle for Xavier with starting point guard Edmond Sumner out for the year with a torn ACL. On Saturday, that problem may have been complicated in a major way for the Musketeers going forward.
Xavier fell at the Cintas Center to No. 2 Villanova, 73-57. The Wildcats had a double-digit lead with three minutes left to go in the first half and were in control the rest of the way. However, the story of the game was Xavier's leading scorer Trevon Bluiett re-injuring his right ankle.
"I thought our kids gave great effort, but sometimes that's not good enough to win. It wasn't today," Xavier coach Chris Mack said. "When Trevon goes out – a guy that we've been very dependent on to score the ball for us – puts a lot more pressure on the rest of the guys. And give Villanova credit: They're a tremendous defensive team, so our looks weren't easy."
There were some definite bright spots for Xavier early on, but the first half certainly didn't go as planned for the Musketeers.
The complexion of the game totally changed with 11:33 to play in the first when Bluiett went down holding his lower leg. He didn't immediately try to get up as the play continued on around him and had to be helped off the floor. Villanova then went on a 9-0 run, taking the Wildcats from down one to up 20-12.
Bluiett went back to the locker rooms to receive treatment and re-entered the game three minutes later but was clearly not 100 percent as Villanova's Jalen Brunson exposed him on the first defensive possession he was back on the court for when Brunson blew by him on a straight line drive for an easy two.
Bluiett finished the first half and came back out to start the second but then went to the bench less than two minutes in and stayed there for the remainder of the game.
“We just felt like 70 percent or 60 percent of Trevon out there isn’t going to be effective," Mack said. "And he didn’t want to let his team down. I support the decision. I don’t want to put a guy out there that feels like he’s playing on one leg. Hopefully, he can get treatment and we’ll get him back on the court as soon as we possibly can.”
Villanova was 5-of-14 from three and 6-of-7 at the free-throw line, while X was 2-of-7 from deep and 1-of-6 at the charity stripe, which helped the Wildcats build a 35-23 lead by halftime. Dante Divincenzo came off the bench to hit a pair of threes and score 10 points in the first half for the Wildcats. He finished the game tied for a team-high 17 points (5-7 FG, 3-4 3PT). Jalen Brunson also had 17 points (6-14 FG, 0-3 3PT) to go with seven points, four boards, and two turnovers.
Quentin Goodin started the game by giving the Musketeers what they've come to expect from him, which is a solid floor game at the point guard spot. He dished out four assists and had four rebounds with no turnovers through the first 20 minutes. He also struggled to finish in the lane, going 1-for-7 on 2-pointers and 0-for-2 on 3-pointers before halftime. He finished with three points on 1-for-14 shooting from the field to go with six assists, six rebounds, and two turnovers.
RaShid Gaston was dominant on the glass in the first half and posted eight points (4-6 FG) and five boards. Tyrique Jones added a finish in the paint and four boards. Gaston finished with a career-high (at XU) 23 points (10-13 FG) to go with 10 boards. Jones added two points (1-3 FG) and eight boards.
After falling behind by 15 early in the second half, the Musketeers cut their deficit back to single-digits by the 16-minute mark on a 3-point play by Gaston and a three by Malcolm Bernard. Gaston cut it to seven a minute later with a nifty finish in transition.
Mack's men didn't quit but that's as close as they got.
Xavier shot 35 percent and averaged 1.02 points per possession in Saturday's loss, which isn't awful. The low point total was somewhat misleading because the game was played at such a slow pace. However, If Bluiett is out of the lineup for an extended period, it's fair to wonder if this team can muster enough offense to pull off a road win at Providence, Marquette, or Seton Hall - the Musketeers' next three games.
“You can’t make an excuse or you can’t be like, ‘We didn’t have Tre’ because we didn’t have Ed and we found a way," Bernard said. "So when we drop another person, like Coach always says, it’s next man up – meaning we’ve all got to assume a higher role and find a way to get it done and tonight we didn’t do that.”
Macura is a bonafide scorer. It's reasonable to think his production may see a slight bump and he'll be able to average something similar to the 17 points he provided on Saturday. Given the inconsistent play of XU's frontcourt this year, though, it's unreasonable to expect performances like the one Gaston had on Saturday (against a Villanova team without starting center Darryl Reynolds) on a more consistent basis.
Maybe the points will be there. Maybe someone will rise to the occasion and thrive with an expanded opportunity. But, for right now, it's hard to figure out how this Xavier team will score more than 60 points.