There was some question coming in to this game whether Xavier could check Oklahoma’s offense. The Sooners scored 77, the most Xavier has allowed this season, but my oh my was that not the story of this game. The Musketeers came in and demonstrated exactly what is different about this year’s team, and did it in dominant, extravagant style.
What have you wanted to see from a Travis Steele team? Is it good three point shooting? Tonight the Musketeers set a program record with 19 makes out of 32 attempts. Nate Johnson (25/6/1) set the pace with a blistering 7-9. Johnson may not have always been the one to answer each Sooner run, everyone was hitting, but he was consistently excellent. He was billed as a money shooter and came into this game knocking down nearly 52% of his attempts from deep. That, and his tenacious defense and pitch perfect Xavier attitude, set him apart from the rest of the three point barrage.
Have you wanted to see ball security? Oklahoma doesn’t force many turnovers, but they tried to speed Xavier up tonight. It didn’t work. The Musketeers turned the ball over on 15.9% of their possessions. Only Colby Jones (3/4/1) really struggled with ball security. Paul Scruggs (20/4/8) had a 31% usage rate and only three turnovers. Dwon Odom (5/1/5) ran the point and dished out five assists with no turnovers. In Xavier’s first game from a team against a real conference, they protected the ball in a way that will suit them well.
Maybe rebounding was your concern. Here, the Musketeers weren’t as solid as in other facets. The Sooners grabbed 30% of their misses, a number that helped them to 1.12 points per possession. Coach Steele’s decision to use a guard on Brady Manek meant Zach Freemantle was away from the rim more. No matter, Xavier answered in a way different than they had all year by snaring 35.7% of their infrequent missed shots. That helped power the Musketeers to 1.43 ppp which was more than enough to make up for any rebounding deficiencies that the team may have run into.
Those three things might combine to make this game sound like it was a boat race from start to finish. It wasn’t. Oklahoma is a very good team and they led with 25 minutes to play. Xavier went on a modest 14-4 run to end the half thanks to a Zach Freemantle (28/5/3) spurt that saw him score six and assist on a Jones three. From there, Xavier hit the afterburners. Scruggs scored five straight to open the half as the gap started to yawn open. Oklahoma answered with two, but over 90 seconds with 17 minutes to play, the elastic snapped. Jason Carter (3/4/2), as reliable as always, jarred a three, then Nate Johnson, both all bark and all bite, hit two straight from the corner. The lead was 19. Xavier was sailing toward an undefeated non-conference schedule and a Big East that must now take notice.