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Xavier 82-79 UConn: Tough teams win tough games

It wasn’t easy, but sometimes that makes it better.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Connecticut
The crowd was loud a lot in the second half, but not at the final horn.
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

This was never going to be easy. Not in Gampel. Not when UConn desperately needed a win. Not when it was 0-0, not when Xavier led by 17, not when the Huskies crowd carried them back in the second half. It didn’t get easier when Zach Freemantle fouled out. Xavier allowed an 11-1 run and a 16-7 run. Neither of those made it easier, either. At the end, though, it was the tougher team that remained standing at the end. Xavier went on the road and knocked out a team that people were touting as a national championship contender less than a month ago.

Sean Miller is a great coach

While the refs tried to explain God knows what why they can’t count when Zach Freemantle (9/5/1, great trash talk) fouled out, I expected the Sean Miller of the first Xavier stint to come back. To be clear, Coach Miller was very mad, but rather than lose his cool, he walked back to his team, gathered them, and gave them what they needed to go win. When Dan Hurley had a chance to call a timeout and set his team for a game tying shot, Miller changed defenses for the first time all night and the Huskies ended up down three with the ball in the hands of a guy who entered the game shooting 32.8% behind the arc instead of a blazing hot Jordan Hawkins. The cool Miller showed all game carried over to his team.

Xavier is still tough guys on the court

I don’t know much about Desmond Claude’s (6/4/3) life, but whatever has occurred in it has apparently imbued in him an utter lack of fear. In the above highlight, he climbed above the allegedly fearsome Adama Sanogo and banged with two hands. In the second half he went right into the soft as baby powder Donovan Clingan and scored. After that bucket, Zach Freemantle appeared to inform Clingan that he was “b**** made,” which is both 100% true and hilarious.

Des Claude is obviously tough, Adam Kunkel (3/0/4) was more quietly tough. Still obviously limping from a knee injury, Kunk got the ball when the game got very, very tight in the second half and was excellent with it. In a game where Souley Boum (21/4/3) and especially Colby Jones (20/2/4) played at times as if the ball was coated in baby oil, Kunkel sought it out, turned it over only once, and kept Xavier moving the ball when UConn ratcheted up the pressure.

Jerome Hunter (11/3/2) was ferocious around the rim again. Jack Nunge (12/7/0) was once again better than UConn’s vaunted front line. No matter how much the dogs blew, the wolves held firm. When the Huskies got close, X didn’t crack. Wolves eat dogs and, once again, that was proven true.

The officiating was appalling

I won’t swear here because my children will read this, but rest assured any cursing you think appropriate absolutely is. After letting the game flow well in the first half by calling 11 fouls in 20 minutes, the refs called 18 in the next 12 minutes, then called eight in the next eight. The way the players were playing didn’t change, nor did the rules, the refs just decided to make it about themselves with some truly stupid officiating for awhile. This is not a complaint, by the way, that the refs favored one team or another. They were absolutely trash both ways. Jordan Hawkins kicks his leg every shot, the official book lost track of fouls, there was a three minute break with two seconds left to check one tenth of a second on the clock. It was just dog dirt from start to finish. Whatever the Big East paid these guys, even if it was just Huddle House gift cards, it was too much. This crew is just flat bad at their jobs. Thank God they don’t do anything important, or people would be dead.

It’s good to be happy

Where were you before this game? If you were thinking that 0-2 this week was a very real possibility and frankly not that bad an outcome, I don’t blame you. If you watched Xavier’s “defense” and thought that if you were a guard in college you would salivate to play this team, I don’t blame you. Last February scarred us all. I don’t want to know where my head would be had Xavier lost to DePaul, played like warm garbage against Georgetown, and then lost two straight.

Guess what? We don’t have to worry about that. Xavier went on the road against the sixth best team in the nation, punched them in the mouth, weathered every run, and was just flat better when it mattered. Souley Boum drilled threes and then drove nails. Jerome Hunter and Des Claude defended as well as anyone on X has all season. Everyone did what they do from the coaching staff all the way through the players. Xavier heads back to Cincy with a huge Q1 win under their belts and the undisputed lead in the Big East.

Life is good.