After laying an egg in the midweek against St. John’s, Xavier could have calmed some nerves by coming out and playing like they had against UConn in their first meeting. Instead, Xavier came out and did most of the things that have haunted them this season, handing the impetus to UConn in a raucous Gampel Pavilion. The Huskies took full advantage, and by the time Xavier got any kind of momentum established, the game was already too far gone to be brought back.
In their win against UConn at Cintas Center, Xavier was able to match the Huskies physicality and control the pace of the game. In today’s first half, UConn was way too much for Xavier in the paint, collecting 7 offensive rebounds and 24 points in the paint in the first 20 minutes of the contest. Coupling that with 6 first half turnovers, off of which UConn added 9 more points, was a surefire recipe for disaster. Hot starts from Adam Kunkel (15/0/2) and Jack Nunge (11/7/1) were enough to keep Xavier’s head above water for the first 15 minutes, but their inability to close stops with rebounds or take care of the ball catalyzed a 14-2 run for UConn to close the half that saw Xavier staring down a 17 point deficit and searching desperately for a way back into the game.
That way turned out to be by creating turnovers. 14 of them, in fact. In the first 6 minutes of the second half, UConn coughed the ball up a staggering 9 times to give Xavier a doorway right back into the game. Xavier rode the chaos to a 15-3 run to bring the game back within 4 points and reinvigorate hopes that this team had another 17 point comeback in them. Unfortunately for Xavier, RJ Cole is not Ryan Nembhard and Nate Johnson was not available to knock down 4 threes in the final stretch. After garnering 14 points off turnovers in the first 9 minutes of the half, Xavier got 0 more the rest of the way and their inability to create consistent offense against UConn’s packed paint meant that the comeback stalled as Cole made big shot after big shot. Xavier would get multiple steals in the second half from Paul Scruggs (3/2/1), Colby Jones (11/5/2), Dwon Odom (8/0/1), and Zach Freemantle (11/10/0), but could not get the back to a single possession and faded from the game as their 9-20 on layups combined with 5-17 from three to short circuit an offense that continues to struggle as March looms.