No. 21 Xavier coach Travis Steele appreciates a sound defense. That includes the sounds of defense.
“You can always hear a good defense,” Steele said. “Obviously you can see a good defense. But (you) should be able to hear a good defense. Hear them talk. Hear them communicating.”
Hear this — the 2-0 Musketeers have limited their opponents to 39.3 percent shooting from the field as they prepare for Tuesday’s home game against Missouri (2-0), whose defensive numbers are even more impressive. The unbeaten Tigers have held their first two opponents to 32.2 percent.
Xavier started slowly in its 81-63 victory over Siena on Friday, perhaps the reason that despite two victories it dropped two spots in the Top 25. The Musketeers trailed for the first 10 minutes before recovering, limiting the Saints to 37.5 percent shooting and a 4 of 19 effort from 3-point range.
“I didn’t think our guys were initially ready to go,” Steele said. “Our defense got a lot better. Our talk, our energy was different. We have to be able to put 40 minutes together.”
Team leaders Naji Marshall and Tyrique Jones had 20 points apiece against Siena, and 6-foot-9 freshman Zach Freemantle had seven points and six rebounds off the bench. Freemantle has 18 points and 11 rebounds in his first two games, and he credited Jones with helping him prepare for the step to the next level.
“He kills me in practice,” Freemantle said. “He throws his body into me. It just makes me a lot stronger and gets me ready for the physicality of college basketball. He’s been a huge teacher, Just little things, like foot placement on post defense, footwork, all the moves. He tells me all the stuff I need to know.”
The Musketeers were without guard Paul Scruggs against Siena and appear unlikely to have him against Missouri. Scruggs, who averaged 12.3 points a game last season, had 12 points against Jacksonville before suffering a knee injury when he took a hard fall after a collision with Marshall. He is a preseason honorable mention all-Big East selection.
“Hope to have him sooner rather than later,” Steele said.
Missouri has beaten Incarnate Word and 2019 NCAA Tournament team Northern Kentucky in its first two games, outrebounding each by at least 10.
Guard Mark Smith, who missed the final seven games of the 2018-19 season because of a foot injury, had 19 points and four 3-pointers in the 71-56 victory over Northern Kentucky on Friday after being held scoreless against Incarnate Word.
“I never worried about Mark’s shot, I really didn’t, because of the time he puts into it,” said Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin. “The biggest thing for me with Mark was not trying to get seven or eight months back in two days. Just let the game come to you.”
Smith, a 6-foot-5 junior, had 11 double-figure scoring games last season, four with at least four 3-pointers.
“I feel a lot quicker,” Smith told the school’s radio network. “It’s just good to have that mental stability, knowing if you roll it, nothing is going to happen. Last year if I rolled it, I would be out for a little bit. It just feels great to be 100 percent now.”
–Field Level Media