Xavier shakes off Game One jitters, dominates Buffalo 86-53

Xavier shakes off Game One jitters, dominates Buffalo 86-53
Posted at 12:33 AM, Nov 15, 2016

CINCINNATI -- What a difference three days make.

After squeaking past Lehigh in a season opener fraught with turnovers and defensive lapses, No. 11 Xavier roared back Monday with an 86-53 rout of Buffalo at Cintas Center before 10,116 fans.

The Musketeers (2-0) dominated a foul-addled contest that lacked consistent flow. Buffalo racked up 38 fouls -- the most by a Xavier opponent since 1998 -- and sent the Musketeers to the free-throw line 38 times, where they converted 28 shots.

"I can’t say every call was the right call but Buffalo was fouling, and I didn’t think they adjusted," XU coach Chris Mack said. "And I thought our guys, to our credit, kept Buffalo out of the bonus for a lot longer tonight than Lehigh."

Fifty-nine combined fouls extended the game well beyond two hours but the delays, for Xavier, were worth it.

Junior guard J.P. Macura led XU with 18 points behind 10-of-10 free-throw shooting. Edmond Sumner and Trevon Bluiett added 13 points each, Quentin Goodin scored 11 points and Tyrique Jones amassed a team-high 11 rebounds with six points.

No fear here

Mack didn’t mince words when talking about Goodin’s performance in the season opener. The freshman, he said, played scared. That Goodin was an unfamiliar version of the confident player coaches recruited.

The sentiments were the topic of a subsequent discussion with Goodin.

"I was called in for a meeting with him and Coach (Travis) Steele, and that’s all they really talked about. I was like, 'No, I’m not really scared. I was just hesitant.' So today I played loose and had some fun with it," Goodin said.

Against Buffalo, he relied on his instincts instead of thinking too much about particular facets of the game. His ability to relax played into three-for-three shooting and a team-high four assists.

It wasn’t a seamless night for Goodin, who had two turnovers, but he also delivered an energizing dunk on a fast-break with 4:16 left in the first half. His ability to set the table for other players and capitalize on big plays quickly overshadowed his case of opening night jitters.

Rebounding aficionado

If there was one person disappointed in how he rebounded in Game One, it was Jones himself. He had only one rebound, which, in his opinion, was not good enough.

"I went into this game thinking that every rebound was going to be mine tonight. So when I got in the game, I just wanted the ball," Jones said.

The 6-9 forward underscored his resolve with 11 rebounds. He also took two charges and was generally a disruptive force for any Buffalo player who came near the basket.

Like Goodin, Jones made great strides from the first game to the second. Mack singled out the two charges as heady, good plays for such a young member of the team.

"Wow. For a freshman…No. 1, the ability to see the play developing so he can slide outside the arc and take the charge. And then the toughness to do it," Mack said. "Some of our other bigs and perimeter guys have to start taking notes from a freshman when it comes to that because outside of Tyrique, I don’t see us blocking shots around the basket."

Jones made the most of his 21 minutes and elevated Xavier when other bigs were on the bench with fouls. Although there are parts of the game in need of refinement (catching interior passes, free-throw shooting), Jones proved Monday that he’s not the defender any opponents wants between him and the rim.

Defensive lockdown

Self-inflicted fouls did Buffalo no favors, and neither did Xavier’s defense. The Musketeers' man-to-man coverage limited the Bulls to just 25 first-half points on 29.2 percent shooting.

Buffalo's numbers were only slightly higher in the second half.

Senior forward RaShid Gaston said better defense was a major talking point at practice after the Lehigh win.

"We knew we had to buckle down and play more team defense, be tighter in our gaps and make guys play one versus two rather than one-on-one, and one versus three rather than one-on-one," Gaston said.

Although Buffalo entered the game as more of a collective perimeter threat than an interior presence, Xavier held the Bulls to just eight points in the paint. By forcing 21 turnovers and scoring 17 points off them, the Musketeers never let Buffalo in the game.

Moving forward

Xavier made marked progress Monday -- or, as Mack said, the team "grew up."

“We’re still not perfect,” Mack said. “It's Nov. 14, so we have a lot of room for growth, but some of the things that we really emphasized -- taking care of the ball, playing a little bit longer into the shot clock, defensive intensity, crowding the floor a little bit more than we did against Lehigh -- I thought we took a step forward."

Xavier leaves Tuesday for Orlando to play in the Tire Pros Invitational. Because Zika virus concerns moved the tourney from Puerto Rico, the Musketeers will return to the very court where they won the AdvoCare Invitational last November.

Navigating three games in four days will be a true test for a Xavier team trying to establish its identity. The first of those challenges comes at 1 p.m. Thursday against Missouri (1-0).