Russell: Xavier hoops outlast Seton Hall in thriller

Posted at 6:01 AM, Feb 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-02 06:01:33-05

CINCINNATI - Three days after losing elite point guard Edmond Sumner to a season-ending ACL tear, Xavier’s men’s basketball team survived a nail-biter against Seton Hall for a 72-70 victory at Cintas Center.

Wednesday’s wild game featured seven ties and two lead changes, and it could have gone either way down the stretch. 

After Trevon Bluiett scored the go-ahead lay-up with five seconds left, Pirates guard Khadeen Carrington fired a 3-pointer that rimmed out. A crowd of 10,087 celebrated Xavier’s second straight victory as it improved to 16-6 (6-3 Big East).

Sumner quickly Tweeted, “Keep it rolling. The train don’t stop.” Junior Sean O’Mara later said the injured player served as the Musketeers’ inspiration.

“We know who we’re playing for,” O’Mara said. “That guy’s a warrior.”

Bluiett led the way with 24 points and added seven rebounds despite twisting his ankle early in the game. He walked past the media room afterward wearing a boot on his right foot.

Although Bluiett has done yeoman’s work in the last four outings, scoring a combined 109 points, this time he had significant help from a variety of teammates. O’Mara played his best game since November, contributing 11 points with five boards, and RaShid Gaston added six points and seven rebounds.

Kaiser Gates scored 13 points with a team-best eight boards while J.P. Macura chipped in 10 points.

Xavier out-rebounded the Big East’s top rebounding team 40-36 and never trailed by more than six. Those attributes, plus the win, formed a remarkable statement about the team’s mettle. 

“I’m really proud of our team. I told them before the game, ‘There’s not a lot of people that think that we can keep winning games and keep improving.’ On two days’ turn-around we managed to figure out a back-up point guard. We managed to put in more sets, handle pressure - which isn’t easy to do - not to mention focus on a really good Seton Hall team that runs a thousand plays and has a big-time frontcourt,” XU coach Chris Mack said.

“As I said in my statement when Ed went down, our goals aren’t going to change. Our personnel will.”

Queue up Q

Sumner’s injury thrust freshman point guard Quentin Goodin, or "Q" as he’s nicknamed, into the limelight, and he made big plays when it counted. He had several crucial passes to frontcourt players en route to a career-best seven assists, and he hit two pivotal free throws that gave XU a three-point lead with 32 seconds left.

He also played a career-high 35 minutes.

“I don’t know how Ed does it,” Goodin said, smiling, when asked if he was tired. “Playing that much time in a game was really different for me. I think you could tell today, as many lay-ups as I missed. I mean, we won the game. I’m going to have to get used to it and I’ll be fine.”

If Goodin was an obvious replacement for Sumner at the point, then it was a bit of a surprise to see Macura as his back-up. It was a departure from everything Macura learned in his three years at Xavier, and it led to a few hiccups – like forgetting to receive the inbound pass after the Pirates scored. 

Macura was nearly halfway down the court when he circled back. Then he turned over the ball. Mack put Goodin back in.

The confusion was not limited to just Macura, though. Mack always has the four, or power forward, inbound the ball after an opponent’s made basket. But when Gaston and Gates were on the court at the same time, Gaston didn’t realize he was the four.

The inconsistencies lessened as the game wore on and players grew more comfortable in their roles. And the fact that Goodin held his own against the Pirates was a good sign, as he’ll be asked to do the same for the rest of the season.

Frontcourt flourishes

Xavier’s frontcourt has been a liability at times, from missing shots at the basket to turning over the ball. That wasn’t the case against Seton Hall, thanks to the inspired play of Gaston and O’Mara. 

They helped Xavier outscore the Pirates 34-30 in the paint and provide balance that otherwise has been lacking. O’Mara said guards always have looked into the post despite the bigs’ trouble converting.

“We’ve got three big, strong back-to-the-basket guys. It’s not like these guys aren’t looking into the post. We’ve just got to do more with it,” O’Mara said. “We haven’t been performing the way we’d like and the way our coaching staff would like and I’m sure our teammates would like, but I think all three of us stepped up a little bit more today and hopefully we can keep this thing rolling.”

The “three of us” he was referring to included Tyrique Jones. The freshman started the game but came out after five minutes and never returned. He was not hurt, Mack said. O’Mara and Gaston were just playing better.

Words with friends

Goodin and Carrington were tangled up late in the game at a time Seton Hall was starting to intentionally foul. Words were exchanged between several players and Myles Powell and Gaston received offsetting technical fouls.

Mack subsequently yelled at Gaston, who’d inserted himself unnecessarily.

“You can’t lose a basketball game, you can’t lose your head, you can’t get technical fouls down the stretch. Fortunately, his teammates were able to pull him away. But RaShid’s got to be smarter than that,” Mack said.

“He’s a fifth-year senior. I don’t know how he’d feel if they gave us two technicals and they made free throws down the stretch. That’s what you have to be thinking about when you’re in those situations.”

What’s next?

The Musketeers travel to Omaha to play No. 22 Creighton (20-3, 7-3) at 3 p.m. Saturday. It’s an interesting match-up, as the Bluejays’ point guard, Maurice Watson Jr., suffered a season-ending knee injury just two weeks ago at Cintas Center.

Greg McDermott’s team dropped its first two games without Watson but rebounded with a victory over DePaul and a crucial win at No. 16 Butler to overtake second place in the conference standings. 

Not only does Creighton retain valuable pieces of its puzzle in Marcus Foster and Justin Patton, but the team is a tough out at home. The Jays are 11-2 at the CenturyLink Center Omaha, where they’ve lost only to then-No. 1 Villanova and then-No. 12 Butler.