For the first time this season, the Xavier Musketeers shuffled their starting lineup with J.P. Macura and Kaiser Gates held out with injuries. The Musketeers held the lead for a majority of the game but allowed the Marshall Thundering Herd to come within five points. In what could be considered a sloppy game, Xavier prevailed to win the game though, 81-77.
Xavier got out to a 12-5 start to the game by the first media timeout. They extended the lead to 24-11 by the under-12, propelled by a 13-0 run. The Musketeers were able to quell Marshall’s offense by utilizing the 1-3-1 zone that so far, has worked wonders this year. In the first half of the game, Xavier held Marshall to shooting only 30 percent from the floor.
By the under-8, they brought the lead to 32-17, but Marshall wasn’t done yet. They attempted to get the Musketeers out of tempo, coming out of a timeout with a zone look. In the closing minutes of the first half, Xavier was unfazed by the zone and took a 20-point lead going into the half.
The second half, however, was a completely different story. The lineup was already shorthanded with the unavailability of Macura and Gates due to injury, but to make matters worse, Naji Marshall fell to the ground at the buzzer of the first half clutching his lower back. He never returned to the floor for the rest of the game. The freshman, who was starting in the place of Macura, was having a major impact on the game as he collected seven points and four assists before going down.
In the early part of the second half, Marshall carried a 10-0 run, but were unable to bring the lead to single digits. By the under-16, Xavier still led 54-37. And by the under-12, the Musketeers led 59-46.
After this point, Xavier started to be careless with the ball in a game that it turned the ball over a total of 18 times. Xavier also struggled to make shots. A 2:20 Xavier scoring drought allowed for the Thundering Herd to cut the lead to 10 with 9:24 left to go in the game.
Xavier was never able to truly put away the Herd for good, but secured a tight 81-77 victory.
Kerem Kanter: 16 points, 13 rebounds
Tyrique Jones: 14 points, 11 rebounds
Quentin Goodin: 14 points, 6 rebounds
Sean O’Mara: 14 points, 5 rebounds
Ajdin Penava: 25 points, 9 rebounds
C.J. Burks: 18 points, 6 rebounds
Jon Elmore: 16 points
The Bigs were big tonight
Xavier was without two starters tonight and Trevon Bluiett was off, so that meant someone had to galvanize the Musketeers offense. From the beginning minutes of the game, the person who answered the bell was Naji Marshall. But he left the game after sustaining what looked to be some type of back injury.
Presumably, it didn’t look to be anything serious because he was seen on the bench in warmup sweats and a longsleeve shirt.
The big men really dominated the Thundering Herd in the paint, though. Xavier had 32 points in the paint and a combined 44 point effort from the bigs in the win today.
Xavier can still win without two starters, but for how long?
Big East play is beckoning and so is the last game of nonconference play. The Musketeers take the floor on Friday against a fearsome Northern Iowa Panthers team. This could be a rough go for the Musketeers if Macura and Gates, their two scoring threats, aren’t on the floor. On Tuesday, Xavier had a depleted rotation and this meant that some players had to log a lot more minutes than they usually do.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But there’s a big difference between guys playing poorly and not having bodies. Luckily, Marshall’s scoring was streaky and Xavier was able to withstand the last minute push by the Herd. That being said, with both Macura and Gates’ statuses uncertain, Xavier may have to look elsewhere for consistent scoring.
The good news is, some of the younger guys are getting much-needed game experience.
Who replaces Marshall in the starting lineup?
Naji Marshall started for the first time in his Xavier career but left the game with an apparent back injury. At this point, there’s no guarantee that he will be able to play in Friday’s game and the same goes for Macura and Gates.
Potentially, this means the Musketeers will be without three rotation guys in the next game and that certainly shakes up the starting lineup. In my eyes, there are two possible lineups in this worst-case scenario. In that situation, the starters might look something like Goodin, Scruggs, Bluiett, Kanter and Jones come Friday.
Xavier has hit its first true bump in the road this season. First having to mount a miraculous comeback against East Tennessee State, and second having to play without two starters while losing another and just barely holding off Marshall for the win.
A win is a win, but these aren’t exactly the types of wins you want to see, especially with just one game left before Big East play begins.
Hopefully, none of the injuries to Macura, Gates, or Marshall will be for the longterm and they can return to action as soon as possible. Xavier plays next on Friday in just its second true road game of the season against the sharpshooting UNI Panthers, who are almost always a March Madness contender.