Saturday, March 06, 1999

XU's rebounding weakness exposed




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        PHILADELPHIA — Xavier needs to rebound now. Literally and figuratively. The Musketeers must get off the mat and get on the boards.

        Otherwise, they might as well take a pass on the NCAA Tournament, should their anticipated invitation arrive Sunday evening. March is not for the meek, and the Muskies were pushed around Friday night as if their Reeboks bore rollerblades.

        Temple made too many second shots and committed too few turnovers in winning the Atlantic 10 semifinal, 76-64. The Owls did nothing fancy, but everything fundamental — a John Chaney team in tournament trim. The Muskies' inside game, by comparison, was invisible.

        “Rebounding killed us,” Xavier forward Lloyd Price said, leaning against a cinderblock wall at the Spectrum. “They were bigger and they were physical. They were just laying on us.”

        There was more to it than that. Xavier thrives on turnovers, and Temple wins by not beating itself. The Owls committed only eight turnovers and missed only 12 shots in the second half after missing their last 12 in a row before intermission. Meanwhile, Chaney's trademark matchup zone defense nudged the Muskies ever further from the basket, turning high-percentage shots into so many prayers.

        Still, if you had to boil this game down to a single, glaring difference, it was on the glass.

        If rebounding did not kill Xavier, as Lloyd Price alleged, then the movies did not murder Vaudeville.

        Temple claimed 43 rebounds Friday night; Xavier 29. The Owls had 18 offensive rebounds against only 19 Xavier defensive rebounds. It was like an older,

        bulkier brother playing against a more energetic younger sibling. When it mattered, the Muskies were mauled.

        “It was physical,” said Xavier center Kevin Frey. “That's what we thought it was going to be. It was tough to get anything done inside.”

        Frey and Price are both freshmen. So is forward Aaron Turner. The three of them logged 80 minutes against a Temple front line with more experience and vastly superior bulk. Temple's Lamont Barnes, a 6-foot-10, 230-pound junior, had as many rebounds by himself (14) as the three Xavier freshmen totaled.

        It's hard to win that way this time of the year, when the officials tend to let the elbows fly. If the Muskies are to make more than a cameo appearance in the NCAA Tournament — and that assumes they will make any appearance at all — they are going to need a benign draw.

        “We're young inside,” Prosser acknowledged. “That's a concern.”

        Remarkably, the callow Muskies had outrebounded Temple as recently as Valentine's Day, when the two teams tussled at Cincinnati Gardens. But the lessons drawn from that experience were of little use Friday at the Spectrum. The full-court press that forced Temple into a season-high 17 turnovers in Cincinnati was not nearly so productive on this night, and Chaney was con sequently able to use his size to greater advantage.

        Xavier's pressure so confounded the Owls in Cincinnati that Chaney ultimately went to a four-guard attack in order to implement his half-court offense. When the Muskies can't play a transition game — when their size becomes more decisive than their speed — they become mighty ordinary.

        Yet for all their shortcomings Friday, the Muskies might easily have won this game. They led, 53-52, with 8:51 to play, when forward James Posey picked up his fourth foul. If ever a game turned on one whistle, this was it.

        Xavier guard Lenny Brown was so outraged by the call that Posey was prompted to put his hand over Brown's mouth to prevent a technical foul. Posey then retired to the bench for several crucial minutes, and the Muskies quickly lost their last lead of the game.

        Whether it will be their last lead of the season remains unclear. Thursday's victory over Massachusetts moved Xavier from 64h to 58th in the Rating Percentage Index — one of the Selection Committee's leading indicators — but Friday's defeat filled them with dread.

        “I don't understand this,” Prosser said of the selection process. “and I have a hard time spelling RPI.”

        Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

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