So many reasons to love the Crosstown Shootout this year - and every year.
I know both coaches hate it, but it's such a great, intense game. I would think Mick Cronin and Chris Mack, when watching video with their teams, will tell their guys they need to play with that kind of passion every game. You know, like against UAB on Wednesday night and Lipscomb (Lipscomb? Really?) on Saturday.
Had major computer issues last night and found later that blog posts never posted. Thought today I'd throw out a few observations from the thriller in Cintas.
· The first half of XU's 83-79 victory told you all you need to know about why this game is different. Fights almost broke out twice. Players had to be restrained. Coaches and staff ran out on the floor. That's not happening against Miami University, folks. The beginnings of these games are often sloppy because of the level of intensity with which everyone comes out. Also guys try to too hard. While I personally like some pushing and trash-talking because it keeps the rivalry heated, unfortunately for the Bearcats they kind of lost their composure and let a seven-point lead disappear. "You've got to be able to walk away," Cronin said later. "True toughness is dealing with the environment and dealing with the game. My guys lost their cool. We were concerned about everything but execution." No question. The guys acted like they've never been in a physical game before. "Just a little talking going on," Rashad Bishop said. "It just kind of escalated a little too far." Cronin stressed composure at halftime, and the players seemed to get the message. The second half was great ball on both sides.
· It's always interesting to see who rises to the occasion in these games and who doesn't. Obviously Xavier's Terrell Holloway (career-high 26 points, 11-of-11 free-throw shooting) and Jason Love (19 rebounds, five blocks) were sensational. UC freshman Lance Stephenson scored a career-high 22 points and is really tough to stop one-on-one. "I felt like every play I could make the basket," said Stephenson, who was allowed to speak to the media for the first time since arriving at UC. "This was a very competitive game. I didn't know it was this tough."
· Holloway, like Stephenson from New York, told Mack during the game that he wanted to guard Stephenson. He did a decent job, making Stephenson work for his points. Stephenson has averaged 19.5 points in the last two games and is clearly UC's go-to guy. Deonta Vaughn had a career-high nine rebounds, but it took him too long to get going offensively. Coming off zero points against Miami, he didn't score against Xavier until 2½ minutes into the second half. He finished with 13 but missed a layup in the final seconds of double-overtime.
· By the way, Mack indicated that Stephenson was, uh, talking to him during the game. Stephenson could not seem to recall that.
· Both coaches used lots of players (9 each played at least 10 minutes) and lots of combinations. Cronin did not start Yancy Gates but needed him quickly when Steve Toyloy picked up two fouls in the first 2½ minutes. Mack didn't start leading scorer Jordan Crawford. Said he wanted to try a different lineup. Uh huh. Darnell Wilks strikes me as very productive: He had eight points and five rebounds in 14 minutes and was 2-of-4 from 3-point range.
· Some stats: This was only the sixth overtime game in Crosstown Shootout history and the first to go into double overtime. "A Shootout to remember," Mack called it. Xavier has won five of these games; UC's only OT victory was in 1967. ... The Musketeers have defeated UC three straight times for only the second time ever. The first was 1984-86, the Byron Larkin era at X. XU has never won four in a row in the series. ... UC has lost 10 of the last 14 and has not won at Xavier since Dec. 14, 2001.
· Bearcats were just 10-of-22 from the foul line and may have lost the game because of poor free-throw shooting, which also hurt them in their other loss to Gonzaga. UC missed a free throw in first OT and missed three in the second overtime that could have won it. Xavier, meanwhile, was 28-of-36. "We're not finishing on the interior," Cronin said, reminding that UC also missed close-range shots and layups. "We've got to learn how to close out a game." Cincinnati is shooting just 60.2% from the foul line for the season.
· Wonder if ESPN will broadcast the game next year. Seems relegating it to ESPNU was not the best decision. No matter where in the country you live, that was a great game to watch.
· Pretty cool that both coaches are home-grown (Cronin went to LaSalle High School; Mack to St. Xavier). "Half my family hates Xavier and they root for UC," Mack said after the game.
· Perhaps the best thing about the Shootout is it's so unpredictable that it's predictable. The fact that UC was ranked going in combined with the fact that Xavier had been playing horribly only meant one thing: The Musketeers would have a great chance to win. But that was anybody's game and a blast to watch.