They're at their best on the edge of control, one finger on the steering wheel, two tires off the cliff. Xavier's finest is halfway between Oh Yes and Oh No. Take Saturday night:
Oh Yes: The Muskies got back to basics against No. 14 Purdue. They played like their hair was on fire. They forced 21 turnovers, made 10 steals. It was part basketball, part rugby scrum. Bodies flew like a Wallenda reunion.
Oh No: In their need to fly, they sometimes forget to hold onto the ball or put it in the basket. In the first half, guards Lenny Brown and Gary Lumpkin had nearly as many turnovers (10) as points (13). Their 40-minute totals were equally gruesome: 18 turnovers, 22 points. You don't win many big games with numbers like that, even if you do play so hard, your fans need oxygen. Purdue played as hard, and wiser. The Boilermakers won, 71-57.
It wasn't all bad for Xavier. The rookies Kevin Frey and Lloyd Price showed flashes of better days to come. Frey was fearless, even banging in a clutch three with 4:00 left, to get XU to within three points.
"I was open. I didn't really think about it," Frey said. "You try not to think about being a freshman out there."
The rest was a mess. A pedal-to-the-metal mess, for sure: Twenty-six turnovers, 17 balls stolen. It was great entertainment. But still a mess.
In spurts, the Muskies looked unstoppable. Other times, they look like they needed to stop, before they got hurt.
When Brown popped a three from the left wing, Xavier led 24-13 with 9:22 left in the first half. Purdue outscored the Muskies 22-5 the rest of the half.
Thanks to some terrific half-court defense, Xavier rallied to tie the game at 41. Then the Muskies went 8:13 without a field goal and seven minutes without scoring at all.
They may drive you nuts this winter. At least it will be an exciting nuts.
As for Lumpkin: Please let him find his game. Give him back his jumpshot. Restore his good judgment. Allow Lumpkin to recall who he was two seasons ago. He is a great kid, and it is getting painful to watch him play.
Lumpkin missed six of the seven shots he took, including all five of his threes. He committed 11 turnovers. Nobody wins with a point guard committing 11 turnovers. "You would think the one thing we would have on the perimeter is consistency," coach Skip Prosser said.
Taking his lumps
"Gary needs to settle down and play his game," Brown said. "He's hearing it from everybody. He's doing everything in his power to please everybody."
And pleasing no one, least of all himself.
Not that it's Lumpkin's mess alone. "We need to put our whole game together," Brown said. "We're good in spurts, but we're not finishing."
After two March-type games in four days against ranked teams, and the vacation from hell in Puerto Rico, the Muskies can stop tugging on their shorts for awhile.
(By the way, why must we play so many March games in November and December? It's like starting dinner with the chocolate mousse. Wouldn't you rather see UC play Duke in, oh, February?)
The Muskies play Toledo next, then Canisius. Time to begin developing some depth off the bench. Time to rediscover some method to all that on-court madness. Time for Lumpkin to remember who he was.
Someone asked Brown if that would take some time. "I can't fool around with it too long," the senior said. "I don't have many games left."
"A season is a lifetime," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has said. Speak for yourself, K. Xavier's season hasn't passed the one-month mark, and the Muskies have already lived for generations.
With this team, you just don't know. A bomb in your hand? Or just a bomb?
The ride is just beginning. Hold on, because whatever it will be, it won't be dull.
Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454.