I don’t get to see many Xavier games in person. In my life, I’ve been to Cintas just three times before this game. The first was January 5th of 2020 against St. John’s, or, as I call it, the Dontarius James game. The second was February 25th of the same season to see X beat DePaul. The most recent was watching Zip Em Up walk it off against Sideline Cancer.
Every time I go to Cintas is special. Not only because Xavier is my favorite team that I support across all sports, but also becasue it has never let me down. The two games I saw in 2020 were not the beautiful game we all watched tonight, but the crowd was still rocking. The environment never let up. Even in a mid-summer tournament watching Xavier players of years past play in front of a mid-size crowd, Cintas was still rocking.
That brings me to my fourth trip to Cintas. Man, it was a good one. Games always feel faster to me in person than they do on television. This one felt like a sprint from the get-go. I remember looking up at one point during a media timeout and thinking, “Wow. The winner of this one is surely hitting 90.” I also remember looking up and thinking, “Wow. We can’t stop Baylor Scheierman.” One of these things ended up being true.
There were stretches in the first half where I, and the very expressive guy sitting behind me, thought this one was gonna get away from X. Not the case with the young boy sitting in front of me. Every time Creighton made a run, he was convinced X had the answer, and he was right. Boum canned a three to cut the lead to 4. Moments later, after passing up open looks, Jerome Hunter hoisted a corner three; much to the dismay of Section 200. Nothing but net. A crowd that booed him at home last season, erupted.
The second half did not slow down with both teams exploiting mismatches and making some tough shots. I feared this would be the time Xavier’s offense wasn’t quite going to be able to cover for their defense, and, for a little while, I was right. Baylor Scheierman, who I still have a soft spot for as I like South Dakota State, was proving to be a matchup nightmare. Then Colby Jones, who I thought was having a quiet game until I realized he wasn’t, stepped up and locked Scheierman down as the game entered the final stretch.
As X cut into the Creighton lead, it was Des Claude who finally pushed them over the hump. Claude wasn’t the first player on anyone’s mind in the arena, but he looked steady and composed enough that I thought he would stay in until he was pulled for crunch time. Instead, he drove straight through the Creighton defense, and attacked the biggest dude on the floor. After converting the three point play, Des stayed out there. He battled hard on defense, had the confidence and composure to push the ball up the floor, and flashed the potential he has been heralded for.
When it came to winning time, it was the usual suspects for X. Jones performed his iconic “dribble in a circle through the lane until something opens up” and found Nunge for a huge three. Jones then blew Kalkbrenner’s doors off on a more conventional drive and put X up 6. Still Creighton wouldn’t go away, but they had the advantage of knowing who would have the ball in his hands. I knew it, the little dude in front of me knew it, and even the, sporting and friendly, Creighton fans sitting to my left knew it. Unfortunately for the Bluejays, there was nothing anyone was gonna do to stop it.
Souley Boum is that dude. After a couple frantic possessions for X, Boum got the ball, slowed the tempo down for the first time all night, and walked the ball up the floor. The Cintas fans didn’t know exactly how it would go down, but all rose to their feet to see Boum go to work. The screen from Nunge came, Boum drove left, Kalkbrenner came out to close him down, Boum scooped the shot over him without a care in the world, and wheeled away down the floor with his hand still held out in front of him. As the foul parade began, Boum never looked flustered. Cintas wasn’t flustered, the whole crowd knew he was about to bury the game. Boum cashed out from the line, and Nunge tipped Creighton’s full court pass to close the game.
On a Wednesday night in the middle of January, Cintas served up a special one. For a few hours, the only thing on my mind was watching one of the best college basketball games I’ve ever seen. The frenetic pace of the game, the noise of the student section, the big plays from Xavier’s two-man bench, and Colby Jones zipping em up after the final horn had sounded were the only cares in the world. Cintas never disappoints.
Side note: This was my fiance’s first X game. Gonna be hard to top.