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Breaking down (another) game winner

Colby Jones gamer came from another great play call and more improvisation from Adam Kunkel

NCAA Basketball: Providence at Xavier
It’s quite a way to remember your Papa
Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

What a week for Colby Jones. Lost in everything that goes with being the level of athlete that can play for Xavier and the forced maturity that can bring is the heartbreak must come in quiet moments for a young man that just lost his grandfather. The emotion was clear on Jones’ face as a curious combination of elation and sorrow as he fought back tears after his game winner.

And what a game winner it was. There’s nothing better than a cup of tea and game tape (except maybe scoring 28 against Pittsburgh in the first quarter), so here we sit with another huge shot for Xavier and one, it doesn’t feel like an exaggeration to say, that came at a vital time in the season.

Xavier starts in a five high center set. As you would expect, the ball is in Paul Scruggs hands. Scruggs is not having a great game by the standards he has set this season, but he is still the one who makes this team tick. Instead of going at seven seconds, though, Coach Steele has designed a play to get the ball back to Paul.

Scruggs feeds the ball to Zach Freemantle. Freemantle’s look is for Adam Kunkel who is coming off a zoom cut screen from Colby Jones. The first look is for Kunkel, who can slip the modified wheel screen, accept it (as he does) and look for his shot, look for Scruggs on a flash low, or drive. Nate Johnson is forcing Providence to keep the help side defender out of the lane. As befitting his reputation for offensive genius, Steele has Xavier in an excellent place.

Providence actually defends the first part of the play well. Freemantle has rolled inside, but his man has come with him. David Duke recognizes that Kunkel is free to the rim and peels off Paul Scruggs to contest. Nate Johnson has flared to the corner and his man is offering a hand worth of help while not losing Xavier’s best shooter. In fact, four Friars are getting the stop that their team needs. Greg Gantt, standing at the free throw line, is not. Gantt’s responsibility here is to pick up a threat. He has Colby Jones crashing and Paul Scruggs running to the corner. Greg undertakes the unusual decision to stand flat footed for a beat.

A word for the improvisational skills of Adam Kunkel. Kunkel shot the three poorly yesterday, but sparked the team in the second half anyway. Clearly not a man bereft of confidence, Kunkel here leaves his feet and prepares to whip a two handed over hand pass into the corner. He rocks that mustache, he has a leg sleeve tattoo, this is par for the course for a man oozing swag.

Greg Gantt has reacted, but it is too late. Xavier is freelancing now, but they are doing it well. Well coached teams know how to run broken offense. Zach Freemantle is digging to seal for the ball, Nate Johnson is breaking for the top of the key (and top marks to AJ Reeves for still marking him), and Colby Jones, Xavier’s precocious freshman has realized he knows where open space is. The ball is about to hit fast rotation, and Gantt’s momentary lapse has left Providence in serious trouble.

God bless Adam Kunkel, tape on the release fingers on his shooting hand, 0-5 on the day, and he still wants this ball badly. Jimmy Nichols is about to get faced, but it isn’t his fault. Greg Gantt got to Paul Scruggs but arrived all out of defensive shape and on the dead run. Scruggs simply faked once, stepped past him, and went to the rim. Providence’s defense had to collapse at that point as Nate Johnson also started to cut, and that left Jones and Kunkel in acres of space inside the Cintas. As Colby backpedals he is already getting his footwork right and setting his shoulders to shoot. Scruggs whips a nearly perfect pass directly into Jones’s shooting hand. Nichols despairing lunge is far too late, and Colby Jones is free to wheel away to honor his grandfather.