It takes special circumstances for a veteran basketball coach to proclaim his team’s first game of the season one of the worst of his career. Xavier’s loss to Sheehan of Wallingford on Wednesday night earned that dubious honor from Head Coach Mike Kohs.
Xavier threw away a 17-point lead in the third quarter as Sheehan shocked the Falcons 45-43 in front of a silenced crowd of 300. The winning basket came on a Brian Murphy layup with two second left.
With a 31-14 lead in the third quarter that game should have been in our pocket,” Kohs said. “But I don’t think we got the ball past halfcourt in the third quarter. We threw the ball away again and again. We must have given them 16 points that came from turnovers.”
Xavier’s play in the first half gave no indication of its eventual epic collapse. The Falcons went on a 10-0 run early in the first quarter, and built a 27-14 halftime lead on the strength of its defense and strong offensive play in the paint. Xavier was able to easily pressure Sheehan’s guards, forcing them into careless turnovers. In the paint the team’s big men overpowered their shorter and slower opponents on both the offensive and defensive ends.
Once Xavier scored the first four points of the second half to extend its lead to 31-14, they seemed to be in complete control. That was not to be the case.
The Titans comeback was swift and relentless. They outscored Xavier 19-4 through the remainder of the quarter to cut the deficit to just two, 35-33, going into the fourth. Sheehan went to a full court defense and were able to rattle the Falcon’s inexperienced backcourt. This defense neutralized Xavier’s frontcourt and led to a constant stream of turnovers that ignited easy scoring opportunities for Sheehan on offense.
“I think every guard I used must have had five turnovers,” stated Kohs. “After the first half, a half in which we played fairly well, we talked about limiting turnovers and making good decisions. But instead, Sheehan’s best offense is when we were on offense.”
The lead changed hands five times in the fourth quarter as both teams fought tooth and nail to win their opening contest. Sheehan grabbed the lead with 6:10 left to play, but back-to-back buckets by forward Jovan Santos-Knox handed Xavier a 41-38 advantage with three minutes left.
Justin McDonald and Sean Brennan responded with consecutive hoops that gave Sheehan a 42-41 at the 1:55 mark, but Brian Murphy clanked two free throws with 1:16 to spare that could have extend his team’s lead.
Center Mike Mannion gave the Falcons their final lead of the night when he made a hoop with 56 seconds left, but Brian Murphy tied the game at 43 on a free throw with 41 seconds left.
Xavier then had an opportunity to take the lead and possibly solidify the win when freshman guard Elijah Pemberton went to the line with 10.9 seconds remaining, but he missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Sheehan was able to race down the court and get Brian Murphy a great look at the winning shot with only two seconds remaining. By the time the Falcons were able to call a timeout with a second left, a desperation heave was the only play in the team’s repertoire.
Xavier did have a large shot advantage compared to Sheehan, taking 66 shots to the Titan’s 49. The fact that the Falcons only made 32% of those attempts speaks to how poor of an offense the team’s immature guards generated in the second half. Sheehan was a little better, making 18 shots for 37%.
It’s no surprise that almost all of Xavier’s offense came from its bigs. Santos-Knox had 14 points and 7 rebounds, and Colin McNamara picked up 10 points and 5 rebounds. Justin McDonald had 16 points and 6 rebounds for Sheehan.
Xavier faces Jonathan Law in Milford Friday.