On the opening night of Big East play, Xavier was able to make a resounding statement to those who might have dismissed their ability to contend for a conference title after struggles against Baylor and Colorado. This was a complete performance against a team that, just a week ago, looked like contenders for an NCAA tournament bid. Now the questions will abound about the fate of both these teams as Providence is left looking like an also ran and Xavier can consider life at the top of the pile in the conference for a few days.
The game started with the teams exchanging buckets early before Xavier’s defense put the clamps on Providence, going 7 and a half minutes without allowing a point. Rodney Bullock was unable to find any space as Trevon Bluiett and Kaiser Gates made his night miserable on offense. Unable to get Bullock or second leading scorer Emmitt Holt going, Providence floundered mightily in the first half, although they stayed within punching distance for the first 10 minutes due to their defense getting Xavier’s offense out of rhythm. However, at the 8:18 mark Trevon Bluiett hit his first three of the game and Xavier was suddenly running away with the game, leading 23-9 after 12 minutes. Kalif Yound would wake Providence from the doldrums with a jumper and within 2 minutes they would amass a 7-3 run to keep it within 10, but notice had been served that there would be no easy baskets for the friars tonight.
Xavier has often been accused (by their own coach) of “taking the foot off the gas” this season and failing to keep the momentum when an opponent is trailing and looking to be close to finished. It might have looked like such a trend was continuing as Providence cut the lead to 7 at the 2 minute mark of the first half. This time, though, X answered the bell with a Bluiett jumper followed by a Bernard steal and runout to put Providence on their heels again. Another three by Bluiett briefly stretched the lead back to the highest it had been in the half, but Kyron Cartwright was able to beat the buzzer with a layup to make the lead an even dozen going into the half.
Coming out of the half, it was clear that Providence’s plan A/B of Bullock and Holt were not working tonight, partly due to Xavier’s defensive attention and partly because they were simply having bad nights. It was also clear that Trevon Bluiett was in the mood tonight and that Providence had their hands full with the Xavier junior. While the Firars searched for the answers halftime had not provided for them, Xavier’s offense hit high gear, flooring Providence once and for all with a 20-7 run inside the first 6 minutes of the half. By the time Bullock finally got on the board with his only 2 points of the night, the game was up. X led by 22 at that point and would stretch the lead out to 30 as Providence failed again and again to answer Xavier’s aggression and skill. Even when the Friars racked up 8 points on three trips, Xavier racked up 9 in the corresponding possessions and then put the clamps back on, not allowing a field goal for over 6 second half minutes. Everything was decided but the margin of victory at that point, but the Musketeers still made it a point to show the Big East just how good they could be at making life tough on opponents. The final score may have flattered Providence slightly, but message had been sent: be prepared when you come to Cintas Center or you are in for a long night.