With 8:59 to play in the game, Providence's Alpha Diallo (14/6/3, 5 TO) - a 56% free throw shooter coming into the day - was wrapping up a minute in which he had gone 4-4 from the line and putting the Friars up 50-47. In a game where the lead had changed hands like a hot potato and neither team could find breathing room, Diallo's FTs and Providence's subsequent defensive stop felt like a potential turning point.
The game had been a scrappy affair the whole way through. Tyrique Jones (14/18/4) failed to win the tip for the first time in forever, and Providence had a 2-0 lead through Nate Watson (16/7/0) before X ever touched the ball. The teams traded empty possessions before Jason Carter (4/3/1) cracked open the box of dunks he had been saving for a special occasion, getting Xavier on the board by putting one down over Watson. Things progressed from there, as the officials decided to let the teams play as long as the activity on the floor bore a passing resemblance to basketball. By the time a foul was called on Naji Marshall to stop play and allow the under-16 media timeout, there were 11 minutes and 10 seconds remaining in the half and Xavier was out to a 16-10 lead.
Hopes that it was going to be as easy as that vanished quickly. Providence's David Duke (12/3/3, not a member of the Klan) knocked back-to-back threes to spark a 10-0 run for the Friars as Xavier got whatever the opposite of a kill is by allowing baskets in four consecutive possessions. A timeout from Travis Steele steadied the ship and the teams traded the lead and the momentum back and forth before Providence held Xavier scoreless for the last 3:06 to take a 30-28 lead into the half.
The broadcast helpfully noted that X hadn't won from trailing at the half all season, posting an 0-8 record in such games.
The game stayed tight out of the break; it was only more than one possession each way for 30 seconds, as Xavier briefly held a four-point lead before Luwane Pipkins (6/4/0) hit a three to close the gap back up. Then Diallo performed his statistically improbable feat of free throw magic, and Xavier's win probability sat at 41.2% with under 9 minutes on the clock.
From there, Xavier's defense took over. Since January 22nd, X has had the second-best defensive efficiency in the nation; only Penn State has been better. Today they locked it down when the team needed it most, forcing 5 turnovers and a shooting line of 3-14/0-7/2-3 in the closing 8:59 of the game. During that stretch, Xavier outscored the Friars 17-8 and wrested control of the game back through nothing more than stifling defense and clutch offensive work.
Not least among the latter was the effort of Kyky Tandy (10/1/1). He had 4 points in the closing stretch and helped break the increasingly frenetic Providence press, allowing Xavier to run the clock rather than giving the ball back to a desperate opponent.
Paul Scruggs (13/4/5) had 6 down the stretch and helped X take advantage of Providence keying on Naji Marshall (5/2/3) all game by drilling a transition three as part of an 11-3 run that turned the game. By the time Jason Carter was baptizing Nate Watson for a second time in the game, the Muskies had pulled back 50 points of win probability in 4 minutes, and all that was left was to wind down the clock in front of the delirious Cintas crowd.