When Isiah Philmore’s last second pointblank put-back hit the back of the rim and spit out to the floor, I almost felt relieved. I’ve witnessed Xavier lose a lot of crucial close games. The three point loss to Duke in 2004 to reach the Final Four comes to mind. Ron Lewis’ game-tying three pointer off a screen to send Xavier and OSU to OT in 2010 still tugs at the heart when I revisit on Youtube. Xavier’s crushing double OT defeat to Kansas State in the Sweet 16, just two years ago, takes me back to senior year, watching my last Xavier game as a student with my roommates in a dirty Wayland living room. You remember these games vividly because you’re eternally haunted by the what-ifs.
After Martin launched a ball guided by the magis off the backboard and into Philmore’s hands, I didn’t even stand up. Press pause. Revisit the moments like these this season.
Falling by three to Pacific after starting the game on a 11-2 run. A two-point loss to Vandy in OT after one kid scores every point in five minutes. The one-point loss to Wofford at Cintas, the two-point defeat at Richmond. A crushing loss to VCU after leading by 17, which pretty much ended all hopes of an at-large – a credit to this team for keeping that consideration alive for much longer than expected – all made for some pretty painful morning-afters full of Shannon Russell articles and MusketeerMadness banter about why they let that one slip way. It was all productive – after all, they do have to play the season.
But were we honestly as crushed this time around? To me, it was alleviation. I give Chris Mack and every player on the team all the credit in the world for captivating our interest and getting us through the cold months. To criticize Mack for the shortcomings of this team would be like criticizing Leonidas for Sparta’s fall to Persia. I don’t need to rehash the 2012 off-season from hell. I don’t need to mention the player who just dropped 30 on Duke or the 15 ppg that helped Arizona earn a 6th seed. But the two four star freshman could have helped fill the void. Xavier had to go without their services as well.
I guess on second thought, I did.
This team routinely lost games it had been leading at the half. Other teams get to send highly recruited scholarship guys off their bench to spell their highly recruited starters. At any given moment, Xavier could have as many as two walk-ons on the floor (Stenger was a walk-on, to be fair).
The final horn that sent St. Joes past the Muskies was like my cell phone at 6:30 am on a weekday morning The nightmare was finally ending. 2012 was supposed to suck. It delivered. At the same time, we witnessed one of the best high school point guards in America transform into the best freshman in the A-10. Xavier kept a 32 year streak alive when it toppled Dayton at home. Butler, Memphis and St. Louis all went down to a team that played two walk-ons on a nightly basis. VCU nearly did too. Justin Martin and Dee Davis seem to be establishing an identiy – the former for his three point shooting, the latter his tenacious d.
Next year, Xavier gets what it’s deserved for a long time. A chance to rub elbows on the same stage as programs like Georgetown and Marquette on a nightly basis. A Big East logo, in white, or in blue, on the Cintas Center floor. And a team loaded with talent along with the depth to finish the close games they couldn’t this year.