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Xavier drops an incredible game

It took 55 minutes and some of the worst officiating I’ve ever seen to separate Xavier and Providence

NCAA Basketball: St. John at Xavier
What a game this guy played
Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

A couple things to start: 1) Xavier is not on the bubble. That game only represented a chance for a good win. Losing it doesn’t damage the Musketeers chances significantly. The situation remains the same as it was coming into the game. Beat Georgetown, win one more, go dancing. 2) If you point at this as some sort of Steele last season fade you are an idiot who doesn’t understand the game at all. Please leave. 3) Tip your cap to Jared Bynum. That kid is a killer.

What a game this was. Xavier needed a big win. Providence needed to find something close to their best effort after struggling for a couple weeks. Both teams came out and played like this one really mattered. What a show. There will be very little hate in this recap.

I’m honestly a little bit emotionally exhausted to break this down. Let’s start with this: it’s nice for a game to end in which I’m not angry with our players or coaches. Xavier was once again garbage behind the arc, but they attacked relentlessly on offense. Zach Freemantle (15/8/1) found both his deft touch near the basket and his toughness. This looked like the Freemantle who was picked to be all Big East. Jack Nunge (11/10/1) never got his offense going, but he was a monster on the glass and out battled Nate Watson all night.

Adam Kunkel (20/1/0) put up a line that Allan Houston would have been proud of but carried Xavier at stretches. His shot at the end of regulation was maybe two inches short of ending the game and giving him the send off he deserved. Kunkel is always fearless and always hunting the ball. With the game on the line, he’s the guy I want shooting. Speaking of fearless, Cesare Edwards (2/1/0) once again loaded up the wheelbarrow I’m assuming he carries his [REDACTED] in and went out there looking for contact somewhere. He made the only shot he took and generally looked as if he believes he should start, play every minute, and date whichever young lady or young man would be so lucky as to have him. He’s going to be a player.

Should he take someone’s time might I suggest Jerome Hunter (0/2/0)? Hunter shot twice in the first 40 minutes and then apparently decided that over time is Jerome time. It wasn’t. The ball hitting him in the face and bouncing out of bounds when he had a wide open layup is perhaps as succinct summation of player’s season as one play can possibly be. Colby Jones (14/11/3) had a great line but was 3-9 from the floor and missed the front end of a huge one and one. Onward and upward, young man. Dwon Odom (11/2/2) did everything he could with his skill set and turned the ball over only twice.

That leaves just Paul Scruggs (19/4/2). Before the game and, really, all season, people have questioned why he plays so much. The seven points in 15 seconds that he scored to send the game to a third overtime should answer that question. Scruggs ran until his legs couldn’t take it, stretched out while playing defense, and then ran some more. The kid has the heart of a warrior, regardless of what you think about his game.

All of that should have added up to an enormous Xavier win. Unfortunately John Gaffney’s crew, who must have had money on the Friars, made sure it didn’t. Adma Kunkel got bodychecked and hit in the head by an out of control Watson at the end of the second OT and no call was made. Al Durham somehow shook off a sports hernia to keep playing. That left him slow to move laterally. Twice Xavier saw that and attacked, twice officials signaled that Durham had essentially horse collared a player, and twice they decided that it wasn’t a flagrant one.

The grab of Colby Jones was so blatantly obvious that Durham himself nodded his head as Xavier players threw up the intentional signal. The officials, who reviewed everything else interminably, looked at the monitor for less than 15 second before determining that grabbing a player by the waist and shoulder and yanking him backwards is a legitimate play on the ball now. It was an atrocious and game changing call but, mind bogglingly, somehow not the worst one.

That would come at the end of the second over time when Jack Nunge and Nate Watson got tangled or bumped into each other during an inbound. At any other time in the game nothing would be called. This time John Gaffney, who is out of shape, slow, and useless, immediately signalled for a flagrant. Travis Steele lost his mind on the sideline, Ed Cooley laughed, and Nate Watson went to the line for two and Providence got the ball back. Only actual Providence kept the game from ending there, but Xavier lost their season MVP on what Gaffney thought was an intentional foul 70 feet from the basket with the ball out of play. Only Juwan Howard’s anger management counselor has been more obviously incompetent this week.

Officiating shouldn’t change games. If there were any justice at all in the world these guys would never work again and possibly be put in the stocks. Instead, what they did will mar a game that was a showcase of the greatness of college basketball. Xavier and Providence played a classic. The refs decided it. That’s a great shame.

The refs, and Jared Bynum. If only he’d cramped two minutes earlier.