Cincinnati, OH – Thursday night’s matchup between Big East foes Marquette and Xavier had all the makings of a frontcourt rumble, as both teams possess deep, sizeable post-type players. The billing exceeded expectations as the Musketeers were able to hold-off the late-charging Golden Eagles to win 86-79. With the win, Xavier has now won eight straight contests and are currently tied for first place in the conference (3-0) with Villanova and Creighton.
The Xavier game plan was very evident in the early going; forcing tempo by getting into a transition game, motion offense to create mismatches, and to aggressively attack the Marquette bigs inside the paint. The result was a 40-34 halftime lead, fueled by an 11-0 run towards the end of the half, and forcing the Golden Eagles to abandon their man-to-man defense in deference to a match-up zone. 6’3” sophomore combo-guard Semaj Christon canned a career-high 28 points, while 6’6” junior small forward Justin Martin played a solid all-around game with 15 points and eight boards, and 6’9” sophomore forward James Farr contributed 10 points in just 12 minutes of action.
Marquette made a run midway through the second half, using the inside punch of 6’8” senior power forward Davante Gardner (19 points/four rebounds) and the three-point shooting of 6’3” senior shooting guard Jake Thomas (17 points on 5-for-11 shooting from beyond the arc). However, it was a little “too much/too late” and Xavier was able to escape with the home win.
Christon was the premier player on the court. His offensive output was very diverse, scoring the majority of his points on his patented drives to the hoop, with most coming in transition. He was an outstanding three-for-three from beyond the 3-point line, with two of them coming during the waning minutes of the game to send a dagger through Marquette’s heart. The sophomore is a solid, NBA talent who can certainly create on his own, but coming into the season, the biggest knocks on him, were his mediocre perimeter shooting and tendency to turn the ball over. To his credit, he has improved in both areas, shooting 45 percent from behind the arc and in his last five games, has an incredible 27-2 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Marquette has been led all season by their starting frontcourt that includes 6’7” senior small forward Jamil Wilson, 6’11” sixth-year senior center Chris Otule, and Gardner. Wilson, dealing with foul trouble most of the night, has a NBA-type body and can do lots of things on the court. He has an inside/outside type of game, with 3-point range and the ability to take smaller defenders into the paint. He is averaging 11.3 ppg and 4.8 rpg, and is a solid passer for his size. Otule, a defensive specialist and one of the premier shot-blockers in the country, allows the Golden Eagles to gamble defensively on the perimeter, as they know the big guy will be defending the rim. A raw offensive player (7.0 ppg) who is limited to dunks and short jump-hooks, there may be a place at the next level for him due his height, rebounding skill (5.0 rpg), and defensive presence.
Deric McKamey is a Correspondent and Scout for NetScouts Basketball.