Xavier needed this game. The non-conference had not been kind to Xavier, because there are no moral victories in elite sport. The Musketeers were taking on the 8th best team in college basketball this season and needed to get a win to make the selection committee take note. Tonight, they got it.
Jerome Hunter was a difference maker
Hunter scored the bucket that put Xavier up in the second half. That was his second bucket and he ended with 6/5/1 on the night. That’s not a superficially impressive line, but Hunter earned his 16 minutes with relentless defense and effort. On a night where Zach Freemantle never quite got it going, the contribution from Hunter was absolutely vital.
Xavier’s defense was awful, until it wasn’t
In the last 8:23 the Musketeers allowed only nine points. Prior to that, they had allowed 65 and were, frankly speaking, abject on defense. The way X defended for the first 31 minutes wouldn’t have beaten a good AAU team. After the final reaming out from their coach, they finally clamped down. Jack Nunge came up with two big blocks, people finally started checking to shooters, and X zipped ‘em up.
The stars came to play
Souley Boum picked up his third foul at the end of the first half on the worst offensive foul call I’ve ever seen. X went into the half down seven and possibly down their leading scorer. Boum came off the bench early in the second half, never got another foul, and tore apart West Virginia for 23/4/7.
Jack Nunge took a bit to get going and then, in his quiet way, racked up 17/14/1. In the keys to the game we mentioned that X needed someone to end defensive possessions with rebounds. Nunge grabbed 11 defensive boards and led the team in both blocks and steals on the evening. His three to give the Musketeers a 73-70 lead was immense.
The grind finally paid off
Xavier had been so close to getting a marquee win. They couldn’t get Indiana when the ball bounced off the rim, Duke escaped when Adam Kunkel got hurt, and Gonzaga just got scorching hot. Xavier had been close, they just hadn’t been able to get over the hump. This will likely be a Q1 win, and it will likely be Xavier’s only one in the non-conference. Sean Miller coached himself on to the floor at one point, but his boys got the win. Next up is the Shootout.