All of us who complained Xavier didn't penalize its players sufficiently for their part in the brawl with Cincinnati earlier this month probably look pretty silly right now.
Whether one game for Tu Holloway, two for Mark Lyons and four for Dezmine Wells was sufficient or not, those punishments have definitely squelched the Musketeers' early-season momentum and sent them into a tailspin.
It was excusable when they were crushed by Oral Roberts without three of their four best players last week. It was more alarming when they fell by 10 to Long Beach State in the Diamond Head Classic quarterfinals with Tu Holloway back in the fold. And it was downright stunning Friday night when they fell 84-82 in overtime to lightly regarded Hawaii.
Granted the Warriors never led until overtime and needed an off-balance game-tying three from Hauns Brereton at the end of regulation just to force an extra period, but that's still an inexcusable loss for Xavier (8-3). Hawaii (6-5) lost to Auburn on the same floor the previous night and has fallen earlier this season to the likes of Eastern Washington, Pacific and Pepperdine.
"We've got to figure out a way to be the team that we were two weeks ago," coach Chris Mack told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "We're going through a lot of adversity right now. Hopefully that what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. Right now we're not a very good basketball team (and) we've got to rectify that."
What enabled Hawaii to rally from a 15-point deficit was Xavier's inability to get stops. The Warriors exploited Xavier's suspect interior defense, getting a combined 44 points from 6-foot-7 forward Josten Thomas and 6-11 center Vander Joaquim.
It took Hawaii until its final possession to secure its first win over a ranked opponent since the 2004-05 season. Zane Johnson penetrated the lane before passing to Thomas, whose contested go-ahead layup spun around the rim before falling through with eight-tenths of a second remaining.
For Hawaii, it was cause for celebration. For Xavier, it was stunning.
Two weeks ago, Xavier was 7-0, ranked in the top ten in the nation and about to dominate rival Cincinnati in the Crosstown Shootout. Now the Musketeers have lost three straight and they must beat lowly Southern Illinois today to avoid going 0-for-Hawaii.
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