Game Notes: St. Joseph’s at Xavier
X cruises to win, looks Tourney-ready.
While St. Joe‘s vs Xavier may not pop off as “game of the week” to most college hoops observers, it was a very crucial game in the eyes of NBA decision makers. You see, Xavier and St. Joe’s bring the two best point guards that the A-10 has to offer to the table and they were set to go head to head.
St. Joe’s brought Carl “Tay” Jones, a 5-11 junior from Cleveland who is a fearless scorer and owns some serious swag. Xavier has their own star lead guard in Terrell “Tu” Holloway, a NY native who many feel could wind up as an All-American. With nearly a dozen NBA suits in the building, things were set for a hyped matchup.
Unfortunately, that battle never did occur. Jones had just turned his ankle and was a game-time decision. Though he wanted to go, St. Joe’s staff felt it would be better for him to get a little rest and get back to 100 percent for the remainder of conference play. Without their leader, St. Joe’s was forced to play a completely different brand of basketball.
From the tip, it was clear that Xavier wanted to dictate the tempo of the game. Tu Holloway was doing a nice job of getting the rock to everyone in the right places, allowing Xavier to jump out to the lead early. The crowd got hella hyped when athletic forward Dez Wells hit St. Joe’s with a nasty behind the back lay-up for an and one, but St. Joe’s did not back down.
Sophomore forwards Halil Kanacevic and CJ Aiken went bonkers on both ends of the floor, respectively. Kanacevic was unstoppable on the low blocks offensively, using a series of up and unders and ball fakes to draw X’s bigger defenders off their feet. When he wasn’t getting buckets in the pivot, he made some really nice passes and did a great job rebounding the ball outside of his area.
With a 9-point, 10-rebound, 5-assist, 3-steal first half, it was looking like the 6-8 big man was going to be flirting with a trip-dip. CJ Aiken was the anchor defensively, holding down the paint with his shot-blocking prowess. Mix in fellow sophomore Langston Galloway’s 12 points and you see why St. Joe’s was able to take a two-point lead into the half, 39-37.
The second half was a completely different ballgame. The hot hands of Kanacevic and Galloway cooled in the second half, as did the entire St. Joe’s team for that matter. After shooting 46 percent in the first half, they were only able to connect on 25 percent of their shots in the second half due to their lack of shot creators on the hardwood.
While these woes were going on for the Hawks, Xavier was thriving in transition and getting just about anything they wanted out there. Mark Lyons was able to create his own shot on any guy who guarded him, while Tu Holloway played the role of set-up man. Kenny Frease, Dez Wells, and Jeff Robinson all chipped in double-figure performances, allowing X to cruise to a 68-55 win after shooting 56 percent in half number two.
Here are a few key things from Xaiver’s win over St. Joe’s that really stood out to us:
Mark Lyons is as tough a player to guard one-on-one as you’ll find in the A-10. I recall watching Lyons doing his thing back in the day at Brewster and asking myself ‘how is this guy not ranked among the 100 best in the country?’ Fast forward three years, and you won’t find 30 of those guys ranked ahead of him that are doing what he’s doing in college basketball. Sure, he’s not the tallest guy. Sure, he’s not a true point guard either. But Lyons is a winner and a scorer who is able to score from all three levels. The passion that he brings to the table radiates over to his teammates and if Xavier is going to make a run deep in the tourney, Lyons scoring will be a very crucial part of that.
St. Joe’s is a completely different team without Carl Jones. This was evident from the tip, as St. Joe’s really struggled to find guys who could create their own shot. The A-10′s leading scorer is the total catalyst for their offense and makes thing much easier for the other talented underclassmen on his team. The Hawks often were forced into bad shots late in the shot clock because they weren’t able to break the defense down and while they made a number of them in the first half, they didn’t have quite the same fortune in the second half. Look for St. Joe’s next guard to be back shortly, so things should be back to normal in Philly.
When Xavier is able to control the tempo, nobody in the A-10 is beating them. When they’re out and running, Xavier is the best team in the Atlantic 10. In fact, they’re one of the better teams in the country. Sure, they went through their spat of losses after the fight against Cincy, but they seem to have started to resemble the form of the team that was ranked in the top 10, albeit in flashes. They’ve got the lead guard in Holloway who dropped 12 dimes vs St. Joe’s, a gang of wings who can score, and a herd of big men who can score down low. If Tu Holloway controls the pace of the game come March Madness, expect another deep run for X.
St. Joe’s is going to be a problem next year. Their entire starting 5 will be coming back and given the improvement that these guys have shown in the past, one can only presume that they’ll come back even better. Carl Jones is the conference’s leading scorer and will be right up there for A-10 Player of The Year as a senior. Langston Galloway is another proven scorer who can create his own shot. Daryus Quarles is an emerging wing with great size and length for his position. Halil Kanacevic is proving to be a dominant big man after sitting out his transfer year from Hofstra, and can to do many things on the floor. Throw in 6-9 CJ Aiken, a former top-30 recruit who is second in the nation in blocked shots to Anthony Davis. Mix in Ronald Roberts, a super athletic 6-8 power forward, and you see why Phil Martelli has a lot to be excited about come 12-13.