After winning the first two games of the season in impressive fashion, Xavier came away with an ugly win over a resilient Robert Morris team on Saturday afternoon.
Brad Redford's free-throws with 37.7 seconds left broke a 59-59 tie, and ultimately decided the game. The clinching free-throws came after a long game for Redford; one that saw him go 0-for-5 from beyond the 3-point arc.
"Making shots and especially free-throws is an expectation for everybody on this team, so even though I wasn't able to hit any shots during the game I had to go up with confidence and knock those two down," Redford said. "I was happy to knock those two down and give us that two-point advantage."
While Redford, a career 82 percent free-throw shooter, left little doubt on those free-throw attempts, the Musketeers' final defensive possession was an adventure.
Robert Morris called two timeouts, Xavier fouled once to reset its defense, and Karvel Anderson missed a three with 12 seconds left; then, things got interesting. The Colonials maintained possession after a tie-up in a scramble for the loose ball. Velton Jones couldn't get an off-balance, heavily-guarded shot to go in the lane off of the in-bounds play, but the ensuing rebound squirted out to Coron Williams, allowing him a final desperation heave as he was going out of bounds at the buzzer- it clanged off the front of the rim, just short.
Justin Martin led Xavier with a career-high 17 points, while Dee Davis added 15 in the win.
"I had the same mindset I have for every game," Martin said about his performance. "This game shots were just falling for me. Teammates found me in good positions to knock down shots and I had the rhythm, so I just tried to keep that going the whole game."
The Musketeers had to have their backcourt step up as Robert Morris' defensive game-plan effectively neutralized Xavier's bigs. The Colonials fronted the post and also switched every screen defensively; both decisions that bring a lot of risk, but they executed and played physical and tough against Xavier's bigs.
"Most teams don't front the post," Xavier coach Chris Mack said. "There are a lot of negative things that can happen when you front the post. They played with a lot of toughness, whether it was two guards on a guy like Travis Taylor in the post, that's just the way they play. We knew that going in, but it's another thing to experience it. Give Robert Morris a lot of credit for really neutralizing our bigs inside."
Offensively, Robert Morris came out of the gate smoking hot. Despite Xavier getting some great looks of their own, four 3-pointers in the first five minutes gave the Colonials a 14-12 lead at the 15:00 mark.
Karvel Anderson, who led Robert Morris with 17 points, hit a three with 12:31 left to give the visitors a two-point advantage, 19-17. It'd be the last time Xavier trailed.
A jumper by Justin Martin at the 11:30 mark tied the game, and then freshman point guard Semaj Christon, who had a strong effort with 12 points and six assists, drove end-to-end, using his elite speed to blow past the defense and finish, giving Xavier a 21-19 lead. A three by Martin and then a pair of free-throws by Jeff Robinson capped a 9-0 Xavier run and gave the Musketeers their largest lead of the half at seven.
Robert Morris got back within one in the final 1:30 of the first half. A free-throw from Davis with a minute left gave Xavier a two-point lead, and then the Musketeers had a huge sequence in the final 11 seconds. Travis Taylor blocked a shot at the rim on defense, corralled the rebound, threw an outlet pass to Christon, who then found Davis in transition for a three at the buzzer to give the Musketeers a five-point cushion heading into halftime, with possession to start the second half.
Those points would prove to be critical as the Colonials outscored Xavier 28-25 in the final 20 minutes.
Robinson's dunk with 15:41 left gave Xavier an eight-point lead, its biggest of the night, but it was short-lived as a personal 5-0 run by RMU's Velton Jones cut the lead back down to three in just a minute. The Musketeers would never see their lead get back over six, and twice saw the game tied in the final four minutes.
Robert Morris' hot shooting kept them in the hunt in the first half, but in the second half they were able to make it an ugly game, slow the pace and played tougher and faster than Xavier. They out-rebounded the Musketeers just 28-27, but 11 of those rebounds were on the offensive end.
"They played with more energy and were quicker to loose balls than us," Martin said. "We came out flat, so that hurt us in the long run. That's a part of the game. You can't predict where the ball is going to come off the rim, so you just have to be ready to react. They beat us pretty much to every loose ball and long rebound."
The Musketeers move their record to a flawless 3-0, and will now take their show on the road as the team travels west to Anaheim for the DirecTV Classic. Their first game will be at 2 pm on Thanksgiving Day against Pacific. The Musketeers will also play in the tournament on Friday, November 23, against either Drexel or St. Mary’s, time to be determined, and then again on November 25, opponent and time likewise to be determined.