Xavier was undermanned and couldn't muster enough offense without Trevon Bluiett in Wednesday night's 75-63 loss at Providence.
The Musketeers shot 43.1 percent from the field, hit 5-of-17 (29.4%) from 3-point range, and averaged .955 points per possession. Junior wing JP Macura did his best to take over and lead. He finished with 17 points on 6-of-18 shooting (1-7 3PT)with five rebounds, four assists, and six turnovers in 39 minutes. RaShid Gaston finished with a team-high 19 points (8-10 FG) and 14 boards in 30 minutes off of the bench.
Kyron Cartwright led Providence with 17 points (6-14 FG, 0-3 3PT), seven rebounds, five assists, three steals, and two turnovers. Rodney Bullock added 16 points (6-11 FG, 2-4 3PT) and 10 boards.
Providence scored 18 points off of 17 Xavier turnovers.
After the game, Chris Mack wasn't interested in talking about any built-in excuses for his team.
"It puts pressure on our other players when you lose a guy that scores as much as Trevon does, but we didn't miss him in the first half," Mack said. "We weren't able to sustain our play. Providence adjusted well, but our inability to take care of the ball on the road and make free throws hurt us more than having Trevon out."
The first half went well for the Musketeers. They played it slow, walking the ball up the court and playing zone while building a double-digit lead over the first 15 minutes of action. They owned a 24-15 advantage on the glass and outscored the Friars 24-10 in the paint. They looked to be in control.
Providence closed on a 12-4 run. Cartwright's tip-in at the buzzer made the score 31-29 at halftime.
The Friars took the lead with 16:06 to play in the second half on a pull-up jumper in transition by Cartwright and never trailed again. A pair of threes by Jalen Lindsey sandwiched around a jumper by freshman Alpha Diallo sparked a 30-12 run for Providence.
"We have to do a much better job of taking care of the basketball regardless of who we're playing and positionally where they're at. Having 17 turnovers, you get a guy like Kyron Cartwright out in transition… he's a jet. It's hard to contain him in the halfcourt let alone fullcourt."
The combination of Rodney Bullock getting hot and the Musketeers turning the ball over allowed Providence to push its lead to double-digits, 59-48, with 7:35 left. Xavier never recovered.
"At the end of the first half, I felt like our team started to crack a little bit," Mack said. "And we weren't able in the second half to sort of fill that crack. The inability to take care of the ball really hurt us coming out of halftime. That's where Providence took the lead. We gave them way too many run-outs and way too many layups in transition."
Mack placed the blame on himself for those struggles.
"We have to grow up," he said. "I feel like I'm doing a lousy job as a head coach influencing our team to fight through adversity," Mack said. "Tellin' ain't teachin'. Until we can survive other team's runs and other team's willingness to take over the game… we're fracturing. I'm the coach. I'm responsible. I've got to influence them. We have to grow up and just become tougher in those situations."
For Xavier fans hoping to see new sources of offense step up with multiple guys out of the lineup, there wasn't much solace to be found in Wednesday night's performance. Gaston's big night coming on the heels of a season-best performance at Villanova was good, but he already proved he could overwhelm Providence's undersized frontcourt in the first meeting between these teams and Villanova was missing starting center Darryl Reynolds on Saturday.
The most promising signs of offensive support came on back-to-back possessions in the second half by Kaiser Gates as he nailed a three and then drove from the right wing across the lane for a finish on the left side of the hoop. That it was it for the junior forward, though, as he finished with five points (2-6 FG, 1-2 3PT), four rebounds, one assist, and two turnovers in 18 minutes.
Bluiett watched the game from the bench in black warmups with a walking boot on his right foot. There's no word on how he's progressing or when he'll be back, and Xavier will be intentionally vague about his status over the coming days. However, if Mack's words after the game are an indication of his expectations, it seems he doesn't plan on having his leading scorer back in the immediate future.
"We can do one of two things," Mack said. "We can make excuses for why we can't play as well without Trevon or we can figure it out. I'd rather figure it out."