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Xavier pushes past Butler to the top of the Big East: recap and takeaways

That was harder than it had to be, but the result was what Xavier needed.

NCAA Basketball: Butler at Xavier
A classy exchange of congratulations.
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Xavier must have just been bored against lesser opponents over the past month, because they came out looking 100% more awake against Butler tonight. X was up 15-12 at the first media timeout behind a rush of buckets from JP and led by as many as 9 just over midway through the first half.

Butler battled back, because they’re good at basketball. The same dudes who just knocked off Nova weren’t going to go gentle into that good night, and they ripped off a 16-8 run to cut Xavier’s lead to 37-36. X came back with a quick 7-0 of its own in the last 90 seconds, keyed by 5 from Trevon Bluiett, to take an eight-point lead into the half.

From there, Xavier never quite buried the game, and Butler never quite got back into it. X stretched it to as many as 14 thanks to a Kaiser Gates three with 9:36 to play, but Butler kept whittling away, thanks in large part to some uncharacteristically poor free throw shooting for the Muskies. The home team kept leaving points at the line, and the visitors kept making it interesting.

Despite the missed FT, Xavier managed to get this one across the line. Butler never got it within a single possession, and Xavier never looked anything more than annoyed by the Bulldogs’ hanging around. It wasn’t a full on butt kicking with a middle finger dunk to end it, but Xavier outplayed Butler tonight and took home a W to move to 3-0 on top of the conference.

We’ll let you guys handle the takeaways tonight.

I’ll say. After a lackluster performance against DePaul, Naji was all over the place today. He was grabbing boards like a monster, getting into the lane, and generally sowing seeds of chaos for Butler wherever he went. He had a couple of freshman moments, but he was back to what we’ve gotten used to. I’m betting he has a future, and I’m certain I like his present.

Xavier owned the paint in general today. They bullied Butler on the boards - I don’t have the exact numbers in front of me, but Xavier’s DReb%/OReb% was something on the order of 75%/33% tonight - and the offense was keyed on paint touches all night. The big men’s interior numbers suffered a bit as Butler’s defense keyed more on the paint, but that just opened up the perimeter for the Muskies’ deadly wings.

Ultimately, this could have been a boat race if Xavier had executed from the stripe. The number two free throw shooting team in the nation left themselves about 20% short of their season mark from the stripe today. If they had been hitting like they can, it would have been a huge win for X. Instead they let Butler hang around a lot longer than you’d like to see.