It was a slow start for Xavier today, as it took the Muskies three minutes to get on the board. Two things that would be the themes of the game developed during that time: first was that Xavier's defense kept things tight even with an offensive lull. The second was that it was Naji (31/8/3) to the rescue, opening the team's scoring with a 3 to tie the game.
X didn't exactly take off from there, and the game was full of ominous signs by the time the under-12 media timeout was called. At that point, Xavier was down 17-13 with UC going to the line, and Tyrique Jones (10/9/1), Paul Scruggs (7/3/1), and Zach Freemantle (9/4/0) all had two fouls. With Jarron Cumberland (11/5/4) having yet to influence the game, a UC fan could squint and see this one breaking there way. Most Xavier fans were probably harboring some thoughts of the same.
Naji had thoughts of his own. He hit a jumper, then a three, then got to the rim and scored, then hit another J. UC patched together a couple buckets, but Naji's run had Xavier holding a lead they would never relinquish. Jarron Cumberland finally scored, but threes by Naji and Bryce Moore (5/1/0) put X back up 8 with 1:25 to play in the half.
In what has been a theme all year, X couldn't finish the half. A couple of calls Byron Larkin and I didn't care for gave UC a possession and then three FTs, and they turned that into a 5-0 run to cut it to 3 at the half.
With 20 minutes left, it was all to play for. Xavier beat Cinci to every punch in the game's deciding stretch.
After Chris Vogt (10/8/0) opened the half with a basket, Xavier's locked down the defense, turned up the intensity, and ran away with the game. X held UC to 1-7/0-3/0-2 shooting and forced 5 turnovers while ripping off a 17-4 run that buried the game. During the decisive spell, Quentin Goodin (6/4/8) was otherworldly on defense. Cincinnati could not initiate anything on offense, and they ended up with bad passes, bad shots, or just shot clock violations as they scrambled around cluelessly on offense like Mick Cronin had never left.
Naji led the way with 7 points and an assist during the run, but it was a team effort to keep the Bearcats at bay. UC cut it to 9, but a Paul Scruggs basket and a thunderous Quentin Goodin dunk pushed it back to 13. Buckets on three straight possessions by UC were answered by layups from Naj and Jason Carter (5/3/4) to keep the lead at 11 heading into the final media timeout.
Xavier blinked again at the end as the celebration started a bit early, but it didn't matter. In the end, the scorelines flattered UC as Xavier's multi-pronged attack and at-times suffocating defense won the day and - for another year - won the city.