The Musketeers dropped their fourth game in five outings in Knoxville on Saturday evening, as they fell 51-47 to the University of Tennessee.
In what was expected to be a low scoring game from the start, Xavier suffered another second half scoring drought that saw Tennessee capitalize with a 19-3 run, which was enough for the Volunteers to eventually retake control of the game.
Xavier held the lead for much of the first half, and the beginning of the second, leading by four at 25-21 at the end of an uneventful first half.
The Musketeers were solid defensively in that first half, and outrebounded Tennessee by double-figures, to limit the Volunteers offensive output. But much like the Volunteers, Xavier was unable to get much, if any, type of offensive rhythm going; leading to poor shooting numbers.
With head coach Chris Mack deciding to sit senior forward Jeff Robinson the entire game, apparently due to dissatisfaction with Robinson's output in recent games and practices, the Musketeers were already low on bodies that can score the ball. The fact that Justin Martin, Semaj Christon and Dee Davis weren't finishing plays only made it worse.
Throughout the game, the Musketeers got the majority of their points from the interior scoring of both Isaiah Philmore and Travis Taylor, while Erik Stenger also surprised the Volunteers with some high energy baskets off of the bench.
Using their inside dominance, and excellent defense on Tennessee's normal double-figure scorers, the Musketeers scored the first six points of the second half, to build what would be their largest lead of the game at 33-23 with just over 17:00 remaining in the game. This is when Tennessee struck.
The Volunteers went on a 5-0 mini-run to force a Xavier timeout, then knocked down a three-pointer out of the timeout, to give themselves the confidence and offensive momentum to make the comeback.
With the Musketeers in the middle of a ten minute streak in which they were unable to convert a field goal, Tennessee's Josh Richardson hit a contested jumper with 9:45 left to tie the game back up at 35-35.
Tennessee then immediately stuck again as freshman wing Derek Reese, playing in his first college game, knocked down another three-pointer to give Tennessee their first lead since the opening minutes, as the Volunteers now led 38-35.
The Reese three-pointer extended the run to 15-2, and that run would eventually swell to 19-3 before Xavier ended their scoring drought, but at that point the Musketeers were already trailing by the largest margin of the game, at 42-36 with under 6:00 left.
The two teams traded defensive stops from that point, with Xavier starting to regain momentum, until Volunteers guard Jordan McRae drove the lane and hit a contested layup to put Tennessee back up by three points at 46-43 with :52 remaining.
The Musketeers had chances to get good shots off late in the game, but Dee Davis' forced three-point attempt resulted in an air ball and Tennessee got the rebound and headed to the foul line, where leading scorer Trae Golden scored his first points of the game with just :28 left to give Tennessee a bigger lead at 48-43.
Semaj Christon drove the lane on the subsequent possession and made his first field goal of the game, to bring Xavier back within one possession at 48-45 with :15 left. But then Golden was fouled again and converted one more foul shot.
From there Xavier was unable to score again until the final seconds, and Tennessee held on to win by four, at 51-47.
Richardson led Tennessee in the game with 12 points, while McRae was held below his average to just 8 points. Xavier also held Tennessee's top two scorers, Trae Golden and Jarnell Stokes to just 5 and 6 points, respectively.
Xavier also only had one double figure scorer, as Travis Taylor continued his hot streak with 12 points. Philmore was next for the Musketeers with 8 points, followed by 7 points from Dee Davis, 6 from Stenger, 6 from Martin, 5 from Christon and 3 from Redford.
Freshman guard Semaj Christon had his first real poor game in a Xavier uniform, as he turned the ball over 6 times, had just 1 assist and shot just 1/9 from the field.
Xavier maintained their dominance on the glass for much of the game, as they finished with a 44-28 advantage; backed by the 12 boards from Martin, 8 from Stenger, and 7 each from Taylor and Philmore.
But the real story of the game ended up not being the backboards, but the turnover and shooting numbers.
Against a defense that is known for being strong but not one that turns opponents over, Xavier committed 19 turnovers, leading to easy baskets for Tennessee on the other end; while the Musketeers only recorded 8 steals.
Furthermore, the Musketeers shot just 32% from the field in the game, and just 1/8 from behind the three-point arc. Even though they also shot under forty percent on the game, Tennessee's 41.7% second half field goal percentage was just enough for the Volunteers to get the win.
With the loss, Xavier now sits at 7-5 with conference play coming sooner than later. The Musketeers will be back in action on Wednesday at Wake Forest, before facing Temple in the Atlantic-10 conference opener.