Throughout the season, Xavier has struggled to step up and close out big games. In nine of their 11 losses, the Musketeers held a lead in the second half, only to see it slip out of their hands down the stretch.
Against #19 Memphis, Xavier picked the perfect opportunity to reverse the trend and used a dominant effort on the boards to play the role of spoiler, defeating the Tigers by the score of 64-62. With the win, the Musketeers snapped the Tigers’ 18-game winning streak, which was the longest in the country.
Tonight’s game looked eerily similar to Xavier’s heartbreaking loss to then-#24 VCU on Saturday. In the 75-71 loss to the Rams, Xavier let a 13-point lead slip away and surrendered 49 points in the second half. Tonight, the Musketeers burst out to an early 13-point lead and took an 11-point advantage into the half. After scoring just 20 points in the first half, Memphis dropped 42 in the 2nd half, which included six straight three-pointers to claim the lead with 3 minutes left. Xavier was able to reclaim the lead with a long-range trey by Brad Redford, and after a foul-ridden last minute of play, held on for its biggest win of the year.
In what was pegged as a matchup between two of the premier point guards in the mid-major ranks, the big men stole the show. Xavier forwards Travis Taylor and Isaiah Philmore led the team in scoring and Taylor posted his 12th double-double of the season behind 18 points and 10 boards. Taylor and Philmore made their biggest impact on the offensive glass as Xavier was able to outrebound the Tigers 16 to eight in offensive rebounds.
The major story line for Xavier was the all-around play of its star freshman, Semaj Christon, who finished with 13 points, five assists and five rebounds. The most impressive aspect of his play was his ball security. Christon is currently leading the Atlantic 10 in turnovers with an average of 3.9 per game, and in Saturday’s loss to VCU, he committed a career-high 10 turnovers. In his matchup against Memphis point guard Joe Jackson (7th in the C-USA in steals), Christon turned the ball over just once in 38 minutes of play.
With head coach John Pastor seeking the 100th win of his career, the Tigers were undone by their inefficiency on the offensive end. Since entering Conference-USA play, Memphis is leading the conference in offensive efficiency and has shot 49.1 percent from the field. In tonight’s loss, the Tigers shot just 41.4 percent from the field and 40 percent on 2-point shots. Jackson, who is leading Memphis in points on 53.9 percent shooting from the floor, scored 11 points on 11 shot attempts.
After its first loss since Dec. 15, Memphis will look to rebound when it travels to face UCF on Saturday. With a win against the Knights, John Pastor would reach 100 career wins at the age of 35.
Xavier faces a tough stretch to finish out the regular season as two of the next three teams on its schedule are currently ranked in the AP Top 25. On Saturday, the Musketeers will look to build on its signature win when they host the UMass Minutemen.