sports blog by andy shenk

Memphis 72 Xavier 68

In Xavier on February 4, 2012 at 4:58 PM

The score says so little. Four point win for the Conference USA hosts over visiting A-10 champs. “Xavier plays well, but comes up just short,” reads the Enquirer tomorrow morning. “Memphis rocks FedEx Forum with stirring 2nd half comeback!” blairs the Commercial Appeal. It’s too easy to categorize a game like this…crushing disappointment for Xavier fans hoping to put behind them their post-brawl doldrums. Renewed optimism in Memphis for a program that’s fighting to reassert its national prominence.

Once again, college basketball deludes its most loyal fans into sensationalizing the present. Is a team ever given the freedom to be “in progress” by its fanbase? Are mid-season collapses regarded as unpardonable sins, or could they be building blocks in the development of a seasoned, confident team?

I FELT Xavier lose to Memphis, yet I know so much more about this team than I did a few hours ago. The nerves in my body boiled hotter and hotter, went numb,  then finally evaporated, while I watched the Musketeers suffer heartbreak hundreds of miles away from my home in Minnesota. Yet, my mind tells me that Xavier will fly home to Cincinnati and prepare to battle Rhode Island on Wednesday with much more than a deadening loss tucked in their carry-on baggage. The offense ran with maturity and confidence – veterans and youngsters contributed, jumpers fell, and the front court established and converted excellent positioning repeatedly. On defense, Memphis saw few openings after some early success in the paint.

Oh yes, Memphis ran away with the game in the last six minutes. They closed it out 21-6. 21 points: 29.2% of Memphis’ total offense in 15.8% of the allotted game time. A team on pace to score 60 points with 6 minutes to go erupted, scoring so prolifically that pts/40 min averaged 130 over the final 6:16. Such statistics could be applied in reverse manner with heartless cruelty to the Xavier defense.

But then I recall Xavier coach Chris Mack pacing the sideline as the lead disappeared, refusing to call one of his two timeouts until Xavier was behind with less than a minute to go. I sense his confidence in this team that surmounted a 19-point deficit to Purdue back in December and hung on for gutty victories over George Washington and Charlotte in the last few days. Part of me screamed at him — call the timeout!! Stop this bloodshed!! I can’t take it anymore!! The rest of me, fully in control by now, savors the beauty of a coach and a team that is able to lose on the road without losing control. Did Xavier’s play deteriorate in the end? Undoubtedly. Will they learn from this game and come out stronger, smarter, and more defiant? I’ll bet the bank on it.

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