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That’s a hard truth for Xavier

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NEW YORK – When Xavier head coach Travis Steele met with the media on Monday in advance of Wednesday’s first-round game in the Big East Conference Tournament, he said, “People remember how you finish.” 

Those words carry a lot more weight today, one day after the Musketeers suffered a final-minute collapse, squandering a 66-60 lead with 52 seconds left only to lose in overtime to Butler at Madison Square Garden. 

More: Brutal collapse costs Xavier in overtime loss to Butler in Big East Tournament

That final minute of regulation was a microcosm for the final month of Xavier’s season – mental mistakes and a lack of execution – and in its wake, it’s created turbulence with the Musketeers looking at a fourth straight season on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. 

For the second season in a row, Xavier went to New York for the Big East Tournament needing a win over Butler to potentially clinch an NCAA Tournament berth. Both opportunities ended in overtime losses. 

This is territory Xavier hasn’t seen in more than three decades. The Musketeers aren’t a program that misses four straight NCAA Tournaments, and even with Wednesday’s loss, Xavier could still sneak its way into the bracket if the bubble breaks just right, but it doesn’t change the fact that Xavier started the season 14-3 and went 4-10 the rest of the way. 

More: Paul Daugherty: ‘Everything is magnified’ in March Madness. Keep that in mind, hoops fan.

The way Xavier finished puts the Musketeers in a precarious situation. There will be hard conversations about the direction of the program and the coach currently in charge of that program. 

Steele’s tenure at Xavier has been defined by four straight seasons on the NCAA Tournament bubble and three straight seasons with a losing record in Big East play. 

For a program that expects to compete for conference championships and make the NCAA Tournament, it’s hard to ignore when the results fall short of the expectations. 

Those expectations are what’s made Xavier the program it is. It’s also why it’s such a demanding job. Anything less than the standard feels like a dark cloud, and that cloud has lingered longer than Xavier would like. 

Whether right or wrong, fair or unfair, a lot of emphasis gets placed on the ending.

More: Doc’s TML: Xavier’s collapse left it in a precarious position for NCAA Tournament

That’s a hard place to be with the way Xavier finished the regular season and how the game ended on Wednesday against Butler. 

“I thought we turned it around against Georgetown,” said Steele. “I really did. I felt really good going into this game. I thought we played well tonight for 39 minutes. And then we didn’t finish the game well, obviously. 

“And that has been one of our mottos throughout this season is finish. Finish every rep you do in practice, finish every lift you do in the weight room, finish every drill, finish games. And we weren’t able to do that tonight, which is disappointing. 

“Like I said, it’s not on one person. It’s on us, it’s on us as a team, me included. I’m right at the forefront of that.” 

What gets remembered and often decides whether or not a season is successful is the way a team finishes. Disappointing endings have followed Xavier since a second-round loss to Florida State in 2018 when the Musketeers were a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. 

More: What we learned from the final six games of Xavier’s regular season

Xavier’s now in a place where it has to decide between patience or change.

Change isn’t easy. Neither is patience. Both come at a cost. There are no easy questions, easy answers or simple solutions. That’s the way it is at the highest level of college basketball. 

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