It started, as so many great things do, as a brief conversation on Twitter. Xavier Nation member, and fellow bored fan, SCooper9 started August by trying to determine the single greatest game in Xavier history. From just a handful of thoughts came the eventual idea to form a bracket and find a winner. Scoops is a Tottenham Hotspur and Cincinnati Reds fan, but we didn’t hold that against him as he found a way to get some basketball in front of us during the hottest month of the year.
From that first glorious bracket comprised mostly of Xavier wins came the final matchup. Xavier’s 2007-08 win over West Virginia, the BJ Raymond game, and the 2016-17 win over Arizona to clinch a spot in the Elite Eight.
It’s indicative of how Xavier Nation views things that the two games that came to the final are my two favorite Xavier games of all time. I saw that sentiment echoed in many of the comments coming into the final vote. The vote is done, but here’s a likely overly sentimental look at what each game meant to one fan at the time.
The BJ Raymond Game
BJ Raymond isn’t a legend in the common understanding of the term. There are a lot Musketeers fans from the newest generation that are probably only aware of the one shot they see on occasion in March. In teams loaded with names that entered the pantheon, BJ played with Justin Doellman, Stanley Burrell, Jordan Crawford, and Tu Holloway, Raymond hasn’t necessarily entered that all time great conversation.
That’s not entirely fair on the guard from Toledo. The worst offensive efficiency Raymond ever posted was his freshman 100.7. His next worst was 16 points higher than that. Solid with the ball, a scorer at all three levels, and a more than serviceable rebounder, Raymond was one of the most bloodless efficient players to ever wear the jersey. Mostly seen as a sidekick on great teams, in March of 2008 he was vital in one of the greatest games Xavier ever played.
Xavier roared to a 18 point lead in the first half and, in foreshadowing of the next decade, watched it vanish. With ten minutes to play, WVU had ground the game down and taken a one point lead. The Musketeers were more than on the ropes, they were in the middle of an enormous choke. Somehow Xavier forced overtime in a grim show of determination. With two minutes to play, though, the writing was one the wall. The Mountaineers carried the momentum they held through the second half and led by. Come the hour, though, come the man.
BJ hadn’t scored in the first 40 minutes of the game, but he never let little things like that stop him. A driving layup made it four. A huge three seconds later pushed Xavier into a one point lead. Surrounded by stars that dominate Xavier lore, BJ was taking over. When the final SLOB came, Raymond drifted aimlessly just long enough to let his man clear and then cut for the three point line, signaling with all the fervency of a drowning man trying to signal a passing boat. The ball arrived on a perfect arc, BJ set his feet, took his time, and shot himself into Xavier folklore.
The Buick outruns the Lexus
If the BJ Raymond game was the perfect example of an overlooked piece coming huge when it mattered, Xavier’s latest Sweet 16 victory was a star show of the highest order. We all remember the story. Xavier had lost six straight near the end of the season to plunge from cruising to a high seed to the low side of the bubble. Edmond Sumner was gone for the season, Trevon Bluiett was hurt late in the year, and only ceremony involving a speech from Malcolm Bernard and ritual burning was holding the team together.
Like Xavier always does, the Musketeers put together enough good games in the Big East tournament to get into the Big Dance. Surely, though, Melo Trimble and Maryland would be too much. Behind 21 points from Tre, Xavier swept aside the Terps. Next was Florida State, loaded with front line athletes of the order that Xavier didn’t have. Xavier had Bluiett for 29 and a dancing Sean O’Mara though, and suddenly a date with destiny.
Sean Miller had left Xavier acrimoniously prior to the hiring of Chris Mack. While the coaching staffs had largely buried any small animosity they may have held, the same could not be said of the Xavier fanbase. Infuriated by Miller comparing Xaiver to the favored vehicle of octogenarians and by the national media treating the Musketeers like a stepping stone on Arizona’s run to the final, Xavier Nation arrived in full voice.
In Alonzo Trier and Lauri Markkanen, the Wildcats had the name stars in the game. In Trevon Bluiett Xavier had the star that simply wasn’t losing. Bluiett went for 25, only three fewer than the Arizona stars combined, and Xavier took punch after punch from the favored Wildcats as Chris Mack frantically schemed, adjusted, and outcoached Sean Miller.
Like these games always do, this one came down to the final moments. I could look and see what happened but votes for greatest games come down to memories, not precise fans. I remember Tre from the corner, Bernard catching fire and blocking a shot ala LeBron James, and Q defending ferociously. When the final rebound came I remember Malcolm sprinting for I’m still not sure what, a lot of jumping, and being tackled by an extremely exuberant Mrs. Brad D and eventually a pile of children awakened by the celebrations.
I can’t choose between these games. I loved BJ from the moment he stepped on campus and loved watching him come good on the grandest of all stages. A large part of being a Xavier fan, though, is the shoulder chip that comes with being constantly talked about as if the elite are simply too far ahead. Watching Tre swagger his way through the San Jose night and the 11 seed take the game to Arizona was almost too delicious for words. No matter which game you pick, there’s no way to go wrong.