Though in reality SLU lost to 14th-ranked Xavier last night on a last-second tip-in, the game was essentially over before either team took the floor.
As I was walking out of Scottrade Center press lounge and into the tunnel the players use to take the court, both teams emerged from their respective locker rooms at the same time. The Xavier players were focused, intense and confident. They huddled and pumped themselves for the game, jumping up and down and chanting “Are we ready?!” Some shouted “Not tonight!” in the direction of the SLU players.
Coach Rick Majerus' entire SLU squad, meanwhile, stood silently. They were huddled but looked obviously intimidated. A few players exchanged quiet words with each other but were drowned out by the boisterous Musketeers.
For the most part, the game was the ass-whipping I, and most everyone else, expected. SLU’s shooting percentage gradually dwindled throughout the first half, from 50 percent to 27 percent. In the second period, the Bills kept cutting lead to a few points before an infinitely more talented and experienced Xavier team calmly called timeouts, got stops and drained threes to increase the margin. Were it not for Kevin Lisch doing his best Teen Wolf impersonation and scoring 12 points in the last 61 seconds, the game would have been a blowout.
While I admit that pregame jawing isn’t necessarily an indicator of a team’s focus and intensity, it is just one of the symptoms of what ails the Billikens. For example, during the announcement of the lineups, the SLU players stand and watch the video highlights of themselves on the JumboTron rather than talk to each other or psych themselves up for the game. It is a team that lacks discipline and leadership, both on and off the floor. SLU ended up giving Xavier a spirited challenge, diving for loose balls, exchanging a few elbows and nearly pulling off the upset. But even as they tied the game with six seconds to go, it was the cardinal sin of failing to box out -- a simple matter of concentration and discipline -- that allowed Xavier the tip-in for the win.