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Xavier nearly gives away the Crosstown Shootout, Wes Miller won't let them

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Cincinnati Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

In a rivalry game on the road, it is vital to get out to a good start to take the opposing fans out of it. Xavier came out in the first Crosstown Shootout played with fans at Fifth Third Arena since 2018 and did just that. The Musketeers dominated the first half with swarming defense and relentless, surgical offense to storm to a commanding lead. Everything Xavier has done well this season was on display. Cincinnati looked absolutely clueless as to how to generate offense against a Xavier squad that seemed to pick up where they left off defensively against West Virginia. When Jack Nunge (18/3/3) cashed out on a jumper to put Xavier up 13-1 after less than 4 minutes had been played, it was easy to see this one being another laugher, following on from last season's almost effortless surrender by UC. The Bearcats would present little fightback in the first 20 minutes, only getting back within single digits momentarily before another Xavier offensive avalanche, this on capped by an Adam Kunkel (6/2/2) three from staggering range. Souley Boum (21/6/3) would account for 13 of Xavier's 41 points in the opening frame and Zach Freemantle's (14/12/3) tip in would stretch Xavier's lead to 17, the largest of the game, heading into the half.

In a rivalry game at home, it is vital to get the crowd involved and take advantage of your home environment at its most hostile. Cincinnati came out of the locker room for the second half and did just that. Everything about their timid, perpetually overwhelmed first half display was flipped completely around as the Bearcats tried to surmount a mountainous deficit to avoid losing the Shootout for a 4th straight time. With Landers Nolley cutting a completely disinterested figure, it fell to Viktor Lakhin and David DeJulius to spark the home crowd to life. Xavier's free flowing offense from the first half was unrecognizable after the break as Nunge and Colby Jones (15/7/4) accounted for every Xavier point scored in the first 9 minutes. Meanwhile, Cincinnati was able to chip away at the lead with a Nolley and-1 cutting it to 6 with 7:10 to play. As Xavier sought to hold off the now energized Bearcats, the defensive frailties that have plagued this team all season came back to the fore. Unable to get stops and with the offense consisting of far too many three point attempts, Xavier still led by 4 with 11 seconds left when the one thing that could not happen in that situation did and Desmond Claude (4/1/1) fouled DeJulius while contesting his three point attempt, which went in. After he completed the four point play from the free throw line, Xavier found themselves tied in the final 10 seconds of a game they had once led by 17.

In a rivalry game, regardless of venue, it is important to not do dumb things in the final moments when you have a chance to win. Unfortunately for UC, they did only dumb things in the final 10 seconds of this one. Xavier's move was to get Boum down hill going to his right and hope he could get to the hoop or the line. Viktor Lakhin, playing with 4 fouls, obliged by absolutely hammering him as he went for the basket. Facing two free throws with the game on the line in his first Crosstown Shootout, Boum knocked down the first before a Sean Miller timeout set Xavier's plan in motion. With minimal time on the clock and Cincinnati out of timeouts, Boum intentionally missed, assuming the Bearcats could not go the length of the floor in 1.4 seconds to get a game winning basket. Wes Miller sprung into action and did something no one expected: he called timeout. There will likely be confusion in whether or not he knew he was out of timeouts and it is hard to see what he hoped to gain by giving Xavier a pair of free throws in a 1 point game with .7 seconds left on the clock. Regardless of his motivation or how he hoped things would play out, Boum made both free throws, extending Xavier's lead to 3, and Nunge batted down the inbounds pass to end UC's hopes. It is possible they were playing right into Wes Miller's hand by doing that. I don't know, I'm not sure what I just watched.