Wow. This game had everything a college basketball fan could want or has come to accept. Xavier led by a lot, trailed, tied, trailed, led, and tied and led again. The game was 50 minutes of both teams running a high wire act. There was an impossibly deep three from Naji Marshall, fearless driving from Paul Scruggs, a March like atmosphere and, of course, horrendous officiating.
Where do you even start with this game? The Musketeers led by 10 at the half but could not run away and hide from a UConn team too talented to be doomed to wallow in the backwater that is the American conference. With Quentin Goodin (0/2/4) missing due to dubious foul trouble Xavier, and stop me if you’ve heard this before, struggled to get into the offense. Missing Q may have hampered the defense more, and UConn came ripping back into the game. The Musketeers surrendered a 13-2 run to watch their lead turn into a deficit.
When the Huskies extended the lead to six, it felt as if things were slipping away for Xavier. Their win probability dropped to as James Bouknight kept driving, ostensibly sober this time, and getting himself to the line. Josh Carlton also was difficult for the Musketeers to stop during the portion of the second half when the game to be slipping away. If there is one thing that this group of players is this season that they may not have been last year, it’s tough. That became evident as X fought back into the game.
It was, of course, Paul Scruggs (19/5/2) that sparked the comeback with a three. Like all offense in this game, Xavier’s run took time, but a Zach Freemantle (4/5/1, five blocks) bucket and layup and Tyrique Jones tip dragged X back into it. Freemantle’s layup had come after emphatically rejecting Carlton on one end and then sprinting the length of the floor to convert over him on the other. When gutty plays needed made, it was Xavier that made them. None were bigger than the 30 foot three that Naji Marshall (21/5/2) of so casually stepped into with 22 seconds left to tie the game. As Naji screamed his way back on defense, Coach Travis Steele set up the defense that led to Tyrique Jones (17/11/1) swatting away an attempted winner.
The overtime periods were about survival. Both teams suffered from a horrible whistle in a game that Antinio Perry, Jeffery Anderson, and Ray Natili should probably be flogged in the public square for overseeing. For Xavier Jason Carter (8/10/2) was called for being too close to a shooter (I guess?) while UConn’s Alterique Gilbert was called for a charge that just simply wasn’t. 50 minutes of game saw 50 fouls called as the officials endeavored to draw as much attention as possible away from the amazing sporting spectacle unfolding at the TD Arena. Oversight will never come, and these three will happily work on with levels of competence that would get any of the rest of fired and likely subjected to social media humiliation by our former employers.
The game could not be overshadowed, though. Naji went for 13 straight and eight of Xavier’s nine in the first overtime. With he, Scruggs, and Q all out on varying levels of nonsense, Tyrique Jones scored five straight before Bryce Moore (5/0/0) jarred an enormous three to give Xavier the lead. Bouknight, back after serving eight fewer games than James Wiseman will for moving, looked to have won the game for UConn with a great finish under pressure, but it was free throws from the Ohio kid, Jason Carter, that were actually the difference. When the tough plays needed made, Xavier made them. If this was the start of a rivalry, it’s hard to imagine how it could have been much better.