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Xavier concedes 80% of the game, can’t make the other 20% pay

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The Muskies were beyond lethargic for 32 minutes tonight, and by the time they found any sort of gear, it was too late to matter.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Creighton
This is a picture from a different game.
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t even know what to say about the first 32 minutes of this game. Xavier had just looked like they were finding their stride after repeated covid pauses, beating Creighton in the home finale to give the ol’ March resume a vital boost. Whoever those dudes were, they didn’t bother making the trip to the nation’s capitol.

Xavier’s defense started with solid effort, but they surrendered wing threes on the same action twice in the first four minutes. Paul Scruggs had a basket, but Xavier was falling out of the game early. Against Creighton, Scruggs kept X close until the rest of the team decided to join the game. Tonight, he couldn’t carry the load. By the U12, Xavier had just 3 made baskets and trailed 13-9.

Zach Freemantle - who looked allergic to the paint for large portions of the night - cut it to 1 with a three, but he missed another and Georgetown continued to press their advantage in the paint. Xavier forced 18 misses from the Hoyas in the first half. Georgetown grabbed the rebound on 10 of them, leading to 12 second-chance points. With the defense unable to end possessions, Xavier’s offense spent the entire first half playing against 5 set players. The results were ugly.

Frustration set in. With 6 minutes left in the half, Xavier was already down 10 and foul trouble was beginning to creep up. Paul Scruggs and Timothy Ighoefe exchanged words, which the officiating crew - led by the incompetent Brian O’Connell - saw fit to reward with a double technical. The next trip down, Paul picked up another foul on a horrible charge call by O’Connell. Coach Steele tried everything from weird lineups to a full court press, but Xavier went into the half down 15 with Scruggs and Colby Jones holding 3 fouls and Zach Freemantle having 2.

If you thought Xavier would come out and make a game of it in the second half, you were quickly disabused of that notion. X went missed 3, missed 3, turnover, missed 3 on their first four offensive possessions of the half, finally scoring on an Adam Kunkel jumper 2:49 into the period. Remarkably, that left the deficit at 15, the same as it was at the half.

Xavier tried to creep a little bit closer, but every time they came within touching distance of touching distance, Chudier Bile hit a three. He had 4 made threes in the second half, a pattern Xavier Twitter noted but Xavier basketball couldn’t adjust to. X got a three from Zach Freemantle and a free throw from Colby Jones, but Bile’s third of the half left the Muskies down 16 with 9:18 to play.

With Xavier looking bereft of ideas, Coach Steele leaned on youth. Down 16 with 8 minutes to play, CJ Wilcher blocked a shot, collected the loose ball, and found Zach Freemantle on the run out for a basket. Kyky drew a foul and hit the FTs. Kyky hit a three. Kyky hit another three. In a blink, X was down 7 with 5:59 to go.

Then disaster struck. Jahvon Blair drew butter soft calls on Paul Scruggs twice within the span of a minute. Combine those two with the laughable double tech and the charge from the first half, and Xavier’s senior leader was out of the game due mostly to questionable officiating. The free throws put Georgetown back up 9 with 5:37 to play.

Still, Xavier didn’t quit. Kyky worked a pick-and-pop and found Zach Freemantle for three. Then Kyky drove all the way across the floor to hit at acrobatic running scoop shot over two of Georgetown’s shot blockers, calling “and-one” as he slid to the floor. The refs didn’t agree, but no matter. Xavier was within four with 4:15 to play.

Ball rotation found Chudier Bile wide open on the wing. His fourth three of the game was a bridge too far for X.

Still, the Muskies never stopped scrapping. CJ Wilcher answered with two made free throws off of an offensive rebound. After a stop, Kyky hit a tough baseline jumper off of an inbounds play to cut it to 3 with 2:29 left.

X forced a miss on the other end, but (again) couldn’t secure the board, and Jamorko Pickett stuck it back to revive Georgetown’s two-possession lead.

From there, with three freshmen (Jones, Odom, and Wilcher) and two sophomores (Freemantle and Tandy) on the floor, Xavier looked like a team in need of just one more steady hand, perhaps that of Paul Scruggs. They got a turnover, but a crazy sequence of events led to Zach Freemantle getting stripped going up for a layup while Kyky Tandy was waiting for a kick to the corner that never came. Down four, CJ Wilcher grabbed a big board on a missed Freemantle free throw, but his kickout to Dwon Odom was spoiled by the fact that Odom was standing out of bounds. Georgetown left the door open from the line, but Xavier, for all their fight, couldn’t stop tripping over their own shoelaces on the way through.

All the credit in the world to the guys who played the final 8 minutes of the game, though. They played with the same desperation that was present for 40 minutes against Creighton but alarmingly absent for the first 32 minutes against Georgetown. For the first 80% of today’s contest, Xavier got crushed on the glass, couldn’t find a spark on offense, and played listless, sloppy basketball. The effort at the end was admirable. It’s absence at the beginning might have been damning.