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Paul Scruggs and Nate Johnson get a Senior Night to remember as Xavier erases Georgetown

Xavier wins a game it couldn’t afford to lose and it’s on to MSG.

Syndication: The Enquirer Albert Cesare/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

With 1:44 left on the clock, Travis Steele called timeout to empty the bench and give the Cintas faithful one last chance to let Paul Scruggs and Nate Johnson know how appreciated their contributions to the program have been. Xavier was up 91-71 at that point; the Muskies had buried a hapless Georgetown team under a barrage of threes that had long since ended the game as a contest.

It hadn’t started as well as it would end. Collin Holloway (17/4/2) had 8 points before the U16, and with 15:45 left in the first half, the Muskies trailed by a score of 10-9. In a continuing theme, the man Zach Freemantle (4/1/1) was assigned to guard was going off. Travis Steele made some subs that included allowing Freemantle to rest for a bit, and Xavier took off.

After a 4-0 run from Colby Jones (16/6/7) and Jack Nunge (16/9/3), Xavier started pouring in threes. First Kunk (12/4/8) got one from an assist by Paul Scruggs (8/4/4). Next time down, Nate Johnson (25/1/4) cashed out off of a Jack Nunge dime, then again from Kunk, then Kunk hit one from Dwon (6/2/4), then Nate from Nunge again. A game that had felt all too familiar was suddenly a laugher; X poured home 19 points in 4:45 to take control of the contest.

One of the themes of the game was ball movement. Xavier made 21 shots in the first half; all of them were assisted. The ended up with 32 dimes on 35 made buckets for the game. The ball got sticky a little bit in the second half, and that led to a three-minute offensive lull, but when the ball moved, so did the scoreboard for Xavier. Ball security was equally vital. X turned it over 5 times in the first 6 minutes of the game; they ended the contest with just 9 turnovers.

The real story was the three-point shooting though. Xavier went 14-25 from behind the arc, tying a season high in makes. Nate Johnson was 7-11, Adam Kunkel was 3-5, and Jack Nunge was 2-3. With the ball moving and Xavier going through their offensive actions, the Muskies were shooting warm-up level threes for most of the game. Nothing Xavier was doing was particularly different on offense, they were just making shots with a low degree of difficulty, an arena in which they’ve struggled at times this year.

Of course, it needs to be said that they did this against one of the most hapless high-major teams in the country. Georgetown ends the season at 181 in the KenPom. The only teams lower than that on Xavier’s schedule were buy games: Niagara (196), Central Michigan (320), and Ball State (262). The Hoyas were once a headline program in this league; they finished this season a perfect 0-19 in Big East play, having functioned as a slumpbuster for the entire rest of the league. It would be more of a shame if they hadn’t just given X a chance to get healthy.

It wasn’t all sunshine and roses in Cintas tonight. Xavier was - as they’ve arguably been all season - better with Zach Freemantle on the bench. He was the main culprit in Georgetown’s early flirtations with competitiveness, and X struggled to get stops with him on the floor all night. He suffered from foul trouble, but that was largely a function of having to defend a play designed to get his man the ball pretty much every time down. Patrick Ewing’s days as a head coach are surely numbered, but even he was able to clearly identify Xavier’s defensive weak point.

That’s a problem for Travis Steele to solve sometime between now at 4:30pm on Wednesday, when Xavier will take on Butler at Madison Square Garden. That will be a Q3 game that Xavier cannot afford to lose. If they handle that one, a rematch of their triple overtime game against Providence awaits with the chance to seal a certain at-large bid on the line. With just over a week between us and Selection Sunday, Xavier still controls its own fate.