To explain what Xavier got out of their win tonight, it is important to first talk about what Xavier did not have entering tonight’s game against a Virginia Tech team that will likely represent a significant scalp when the time comes to compile NCAA Tournament resumes. First of all, the Musketeers came in without any semblance of the momentum they carried into the Barclay’s center after beating Ohio State and stomping Norfolk State last week. A frustrating, sickness hampered performance saw Xavier fall out of Wednesday night’s contest with Iowa State without the signature fight that had defined last week. To compound issues tonight, Xavier also was without Colby Jones, Jerome Hunter, and Dieonte Miles, all of whom had started the first 5 games of the season. Adding in Adam Kunkel’s residual affectedness and Paul Scruggs’ obvious lack of his usual level of energy tonight, and a stomach bug had cut Xavier’s previously well stocked rotation down to 6 fully healthy bodies, three of whom got their first game action of the season on Sunday. In other words, tonight was time for one or all of Dwon Odom, Jack Nunge, or Nate Johnson to step up and seize the moment for Xavier to salvage something from their trip to Brooklyn. In a game that thrust greatness upon them, each stepped up in his own way.
Xavier’s early 14-0 run to stake them to a 26-15 lead showed a pleasing, if not sustainable, scoring balance that helped ease the burden usually placed on Scruggs (5/2/7), who doggedly fought through sickness that clearly slowed him down for 38 minutes tonight, and Jones. Adam Kunkel (2/3/1), Kyky Tandy (3/1/0), and Cesare Edwards (2/2/0) all contributed their lone baskets of the night as Xavier built an 11 point lead early on, powered largely by hot starts from Nunge and Johnson. From that point in the first half on, Johnson would pour in 7 of Xavier’s final 9 points, the other two as well as an assist coming from Dwon Odom.
As the game wore on, the Musketeers who were healthy and had been in game action for more than a week came to the fore. With Virginia Tech chipping away at the lead, Johnson scored 7 in a row for Xavier to keep the Hokies at bay. When they got it within a posession, Odom threw down a dunk to serve a reminder that he was prepared to take the ball directly at the Hokies defense and back his own athleticism and impressive midrange game. Still Virginia Tech charged and built a 4 point lead of their own, only for a Scruggs free throw- the only point scored by a Musketeer other than Nunge, Odom, and Johnson in the half- and a Johnson three to bring things back level. With two minutes left, the Hokies surged ahead again by three, only for Nunge to bury a triple of his own to set up a grandstand finish. With Xavier down two and 30 seconds left on the clock, Odom caught the ball on the right wing, slashed to the left elbow, rose and found a wide open Johnson on the left wing to knock down his 7th three of the night. That shot game the Gardener-Webb transfer 30 points in the game, a new career high. It gave him 15 of Xavier’s 24 points in the second half of the game, one that they were still in thanks largely to his brilliance. When Hunter Catoor, harassed all the way by Odom, caught front iron and Virginia Tech’s follow up went begging, the Nate Johnson Game was born. Out of the wreckage of a dismal Wednesday performance and a stomach bug that had either ruled out or hampered 5 players over the course of the week, Johnson emerged to score over half of Xavier’s points as they came up with a massive win to right the ship heading into December.