|Andre Walker (54), Dezmine Wells and Mark Lyons (10) celebrate what could be a watershed victory for XU. (AP)|
NASHVILLE -- John Jenkins missed the shot and Andre Walker grabbed the rebound.
That would've been a good thing for Vanderbilt a year ago.
These days, not so much.
Walker doesn't play for Vanderbilt anymore, you see. He's now a senior at Xavier. So this was a bad development for the home team, and things got worse when the former Commodore/current Musketeer got the ball to Mark Lyons, who -- with all that speed and aggressiveness -- was heading the other way.
There was less than 10 seconds remaining in regulation at this point. Xavier was down a bucket. Coach Chris Mack was worried Lyons might pull up for a jumper or take a "hero" 3-pointer. That's why Mack had his hands up and was really close to calling a timeout.
"But as [Lyons] kept on driving and driving I could sense that he was trying to get to the basket," Mack later explained. "And I just said we're not gonna be able to draw up anything better than this, not with me on the sideline."
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And that, my friends, is coaching.
I mean that sincerely.
While some men believe they have to control every aspect of everything, the better coaches are the ones who are able to recognize when they have an advantage in a particular matchup or moment, trust their players and get the hell out of the way.
That's precisely what Mack did. The result was Lyons' did-you-see-that spin move in transition and the subsequent bank-in runner that tied the score, forced overtime and gave Xavier momentum.
Then Tu Holloway took over.
Then Xavier exited with a huge win.
"This was a great experience," Lyons said after the 82-70 victory here at Memorial Gym. "Our team got a lot of exposure from this game."
Indeed, Xavier did. Because though they won 24 games last season, are ranked 11th nationally now and have a legitimate All-American candidate in Holloway, the Musketeers still operate mostly under the radar because of their league affiliation. That's just life outside of a power conference.
But people can't help but take notice when you come from 10 down in the second half and beat a ranked SEC team on the road in overtime on national cable. So if college basketball fans didn't know Holloway and Lyons are one of the nation's toughest and best backcourts before, they almost certainly do now.
"They're very good -- one of the best in the country," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "They made plays down the stretch."
Did they ever.
Full disclosure: Neither Holloway nor Lyons was great for the full 45 minutes. They combined to shoot 3 for 16 from the field -- including 0 for 3 from 3-point range -- in the first half because, as Mack noted, Vanderbilt was playing ball screens in a way that wasn't anticipated. "That's why we kind of looked anemic on offense," he said. And that's why the Musketeers trailed 34-29 at the break and fell behind 46-36 with less than 15 minutes remaining.
But then Holloway and Lyons got going.
Lyons hit five of his final 10 shots, including two of his last four 3-point attempts and produced the night's biggest highlight with that runner that forced overtime. He finished with 19 points.
Meantime, Holloway was solidifying his All-American status. The 6-foot guard buried two dagger treys in overtime that sent the crowd to the exits early. He made five of his final 12 shots, including three of his last four 3-point attempts and finished with 24 points.
Brad Tinsley and John Jenkins just couldn't do anything with Lyons and Holloway down the stretch, and Vanderbilt's frontcourt -- still missing Festus Ezeli -- was embarrassed on the boards.
The Commodores let Xavier get 25 offensive rebounds.
That's why the Musketeers moved to 5-0 despite shooting 37.8 percent.
Up next for Xavier are games against Purdue (Saturday), Butler (Dec. 7) and Cincinnati (Dec. 10), and if the Musketeers move to 8-0 during that stretch, Mack will find himself in the Top 10 and with two guards confident and good enough to keep him there. Make no mistake, one of the nation's best backcourts plays in the Atlantic 10. They could do for Xavier what Jameer Nelson and Delonte West once did for Saint Joseph's, i.e., take an A-10 school to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
"This is why Tu and I came to school together," Lyons said. "This was a great time for us to show the world what we've got."