Xavier’s TBT team is comprised of fan favorites and cult heroes of teams gone by. In this brief series we are going to focus on the moment that encapsulates that players career. This won’t necessarily be the guy’s best game or his biggest scoring output, but it will be the one (we think) that demonstrates what he meant to the program or the one that everyone will remember. Feel free to disagree in the comments and on Twitter.
Xavier once trailed East Tennessee State by 22 points. No, I promise, that happened. The Buccaneers were 126th in the KenPom standings when that happened. Xavier was 11th. ETSU would not make the NCAA tournament, the Musketeers would be a one seed. ETSU was (and is) a mid major buy game. And yet, Xavier trailed them by 22. With 14ish minutes left in the game the Musketeers trailed 51-29 to a team that would lose to at home to The Citadel. I promise, that happened.
The reason this game may not stick out to you (it should, it’s the biggest comeback in Cintas history) is because it didn’t go down as an incomprehensible loss. That’s not because of Trevon Bluiett, who hit the winner but went 7-22 and at one point missed 11 straight, or JP Macura, who scored 1. Naji Marshall had himself a game, but it was Kerem Kanter who got the buckets when Xavier needed them and, vitally, hit the shot that finally turned the tide.
Since leaving Xavier Kerem has played in France, Lithuania, Spain, Greece, and now Poland. In his last game he went for a casual 26/5/4 and went a perfect 4-4 behind the arc. While he’s never really sniffed the NBA, he’s made a career for himself as a four with a nice stroke and the ability to get on the glass.
That 4-4 brings us back to ETSU. When Xavier needed a bucket the Buccaneers, and everyone else in the Cintas, were sure they would go to Bluiett. He was, after all, the star and leading scorer. This was Coach Chris Mack at his best, though, so with his team down three with a minute to play, he drew up a shot for his new arrival.
Tre ran to the right corner and camped, looking for all the world like he wanted a shot there. Quentin Goodin appeared to turn down a screen from Kanter and slid to his right to work toward Bluiett. Kanter drove his man deep into the paint as if he were going for a rebound and then circled back to the top. With the defense mostly frozen, he was wide open. The shot, at the point, seemed academic.
Kanter had a game against UC in the Crosstown Shootout. X didn’t need him then, though. They did need him against a scrappy ETSU team that was, for a day, unaware of their rightful place in college basketball hierarchy. From that moment on he was not just another transfer, he was the guy who hit the shot to set the stage for Bluiett. Xavier’s season was only going to get better, and Kerem Kanter was going to be a huge part of it.