Xavier Survives Scare from Marshall
The Cintas Center welcomed C-USA opponent Marshall to play the #9 Xavier Musketeers. Xavier was down two starters in JP Macura and Kaiser Gates and the rotation was slim. However, despite significant lapses at times, the Muskies were able to walk out of another sold out Cintas Center with an 81-77 win.
The first half saw the Musketeers return to usual form. Against inferior competition, Xavier was able to exploit size differential and open up a 28-12 lead 10 minutes into the game. From there, the pace refused to be slowed as Xavier finished the half shooting 57% from the field and held a 47-27 lead. Sean O'Mara paced this performance with a career half of 12 points on Marshall's elite shot blocking big man Ajdin Penava. Trevon Bluiett would contribute, to be expected, 10 points. The biggest play of the first half occurred on a missed shot at the end of the half. Naji Marshall came down awkwardly and suffered an apparent lower back injury that would keep him out of the entire second half and potentially longer.
The second half allowed for injury losses to cause apparent issues. Sluggish shot selection and lazy defense gave Marshall the capability to open the half on a 10-0 run that would set the tone for the second half. Chris Mack would be forced to delve into the depth of his bench more than usual as Elias Harden would even see significant stretches of minutes. Ultimately, this exhaustion and lack of effort would lead to a choppy and ugly half where Marshall seemed to dictate the pace as Xavier couldn't get their shooting percentage over thirty. Bluiett would also be taken out of rhythm and would be held scoreless. With 20 seconds left, Marshall would only trail by 5 with the 23 point Xavier lead being long forgotten. Divine intervention would run dry for the Thundering Herd and Xavier would finish with an 81-77 victory.
Kerem Kanter and Tyrique Jones both finished with double-doubles. This, along with Sean O'Mara's 14 points, shows how dominant Xavier can be on the interior when necessary.
As stated above, Kaiser Gates and JP Macura were held out for dizziness and blurry vision, respectively, after sustaining head injuries in the ETSU game. Along with Naji Marshall's back injury, this will be a storyline to watch moving forward as these are key rotational pieces for the Muskies
Bluiett was held scoreless in a half for the first time this season. This should be taken as a severe outlier moving forward.
Kerem Kanter finished with 16 points and 13 rebounds as he proves his worth yet again when he is needed. The grad transfer is going to continue to secure big time minutes moving forward.
Xavier faces off against the 8-3 Northern Iowa Panthers in Iowa on Friday at 9 PM (ET). Hopefully Chris Mack will have a full complement of players for the game or Xavier fans may be in for another thriller.