What we learned: No. 21 Xavier Musketeers basketball survives scare from Missouri State
Xavier Musketeers men's basketball head coach Travis Steele said Friday night's visit from Missouri State would be scary.
He was right.
Nursing a 57-56 lead with less than a minute to play, senior forward Tyrique Jones missed a floater in the lane but collected his own rebound and reset the possession at the top of the key.
A few seconds later, Paul Scruggs cut through the defense like a fighter jet through clouds and finished at the rim to give the Musketeers a 59-56 lead with 11 seconds to play.
Following a Xavier timeout, Missouri State got off two looks from behind the arc in the closing seconds, but both were off the mark and the Musketeers were able to hold on, 59-56.
It was far from comfortable, but Xavier never trailed the Bears and the Musketeers head to the Charleston Classic next week with a 4-0 record.
"We tried to prepare our guys for them the last couple days -- they play a funky style," said Steele. "They really do, and they do a great job.
"They play really slow on both ends and I felt like when we got up early, 8-0, I think our guys thought all of a sudden it was gonna be easy. I could just tell in our faces, in our eyes in the huddle and I told our staff, I said, 'Hey, we're gonna be in for an absolute war tonight,' which we were."
Xavier's defense allowed Missouri State to shoot 48 percent from the field, but the Musketeers forced 22 turnovers.
Steele didn't think his team played to their identity.
"We have to be able to play to our identity at all times," said Steele. "This was the first game this season that I felt like we did not. I felt like our effort wasn't quite there on the defensive end like it needed to be. Our toughness, our tenacity wasn't there. We did not impose our will on the game on that end of the floor."
Jones led Xavier with 15 points and six rebounds. Scruggs finished with 14 points, four rebounds and five assists. Naji Marshall added 12 points and six rebounds.
[ TAKE THE GAMES WITH YOU: Download the Cincinnati.com Sports app. ]
Here's what we learned in Xavier's win:
Sir flop a lot?
One of the things the NCAA is taking a harder look at this season is flopping, which is concerning for college basketball's best actors.
It was a flopping call that impacted Friday's game greatly.
Xavier led 56-50 with 4:00 left when the Bears put together a 6-0 run to tie the game with 1:30 left. After a Xavier turnover, Missouri State's Lamont West attempted a corner 3 that came up short with 57 seconds left. West fell to the ground after the shot and was called for flopping.
Marshall came to the other end of the floor and made the free throw from the technical and the Musketeers got possession which ended in Scruggs' lay-up with 11 seconds left.
"I think it puts officials in a really tough spot," said Steele. "I don't know how you officiate it but they have to. It's what they're being asked to do."
Steele said they call flops in practice to teach his team. After Missouri State's warning in the first half, the Bears were called for flopping three more times which is three technical fouls.
"It’s just a new rule," said Scruggs. "I guess it’s kind of hard to adjust to because the game is kind of built around flopping."
Senior grad transfer Bryce Moore said, " The refs came in and talked to us and officiated a couple of our practices and that was just one of the points of emphasis they had. So seeing that, we just want to be aware of it and they want to control that and eliminate that and that’s what they’re doing."
Backcourt elevates its game
With Scruggs still getting back to 100 percent after a knee injury in the season opener and senior Quentin Goodin coming off a six-turnover game against Missouri, Friday night was a step in the right direction for Xavier's experienced backcourt.
Yes, Goodin went 2 of 8 from the field and all eight attempts were 3-pointers, but Scruggs and Goodin combined for 11 assists and just three turnovers against a unique defense that they likely won't see again this season.
Scruggs, who's now come up clutch in the closing minutes in consecutive games, said, "We look for to get everybody involved, to get everybody touches, and just take care of the ball. That’s what we’re in the game for."
Steele said he almost called timeout on Xavier's final offensive possession until he saw the ball land in Scruggs' hands.
"I saw the ball get swung to Paul and I said, 'We're just gonna let this thing roll,'" said Steele. "Paul played tremendous. He was really good and I told our guys after I gave him a lot of credit for the way he played tonight because he hasn't practiced there for about a week. He probably wasn't 100 percent against Missouri (on Tuesday) and he made some big plays at the end of the game against Missouri. That's just who Paul is. He's fearless. He's ready for that moment."
Steele wasn't pleased with his defense for the first time this season, but it was his team's turnovers that raised his heart rate.
For the fourth game in a row, Steele was asked about perimeter shooting. Xavier was 5 of 23 from 3-point range Friday.
"I don't care about 3-point shots. I don't care," said Steele. "I don't flinch. We're gonna take those all night long. I do not care. What I do care about's the turnovers. That's a problem. I look at the turnovers, I know we ended up with 15 turnovers. That's a problem for our team and who we have. We try to get the ball inside. You gotta take what the defense gives you. If that produces an open 3 on the kick out then I'm all good with that.
"I thought, for the most part, we took better 3's tonight than we have all season. Where I was disappointed was just the casual turnovers that we had in the first half. That can't happen. Good teams don't do that. Then we can't get our defense set at the other end which is a problem."