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Xavier battles Houston to the wire but falls short 66-60

The Musketeers certainly had their chances to grab a big win tonight, but couldn’t overcome the stingiest defense in college basketball.

NCAA Basketball: Houston at Xavier Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off what will probably end up being a Q3 loss to Oakland, Xavier had a huge opportunity for an almost certain Q1 win against KenPom #1 Houston. In a game where Xavier’s defense came to play, holding the Cougars typically efficient offense to 34% from the floor and 32% from deep, the #1 ranked defense in the nation came to play just a bit better, holding Xavier to a season low 60 points.

The slow starts cost Xavier big this week

After coming out of the gates in both halves slowly in the loss to Oakland on Monday, things were even tougher tonight. In the first half, Houston was ahead 16-4 before 5 minutes had come off the clock and Xavier spent most of the rest of the half chipping away at and eventually overcoming that deficit. Xavier came out of the break with a basket to cut the lead back to 3 before a 10-0 over the next three and a half minutes stretched it to the largest the margin would be all night. Once again, Xavier dutifully climbed the mountain, but ran out of gas at the end of a game they had to battle back into from double digits twice. Over the last 15 minutes of the two halves, Xavier outscored Houston by 13 points. That is 30 minutes of game time where Xavier was double digits better than the best team in the country according to KenPom. However, the first five minutes of those halves count and in that time Xavier was so far off Houston’s pace that it cost them the game.

Olivari was ready for the moment

After the Washington loss Quincy Olivari was shooting 6-21 from deep in his first four games as a Musketeer. Since that point, he is 50% from beyond the arc and went for 17/3/4 on 5-10/4-7/3-4 against one of the best backcourts in the country. He also managed 35 minutes without turning the ball over and only committed one of the fifty (50, seriously, like half a hundred) fouls called in the game tonight. With Trey Green missing due to sickness, Olivari was ready and able when called upon to make big shots for Xavier to get them back into the game, scoring 11 points in 3:17 during a first half stretch that saw Xavier erase an 8 point deficit. WIth Green shooting 40% from three over his last four games as well, Xavier’s primary floor spacers seem to be heating up as the season goes on.

Losses are always bad, but there was a lot to build on here

Xavier was clearly on the back foot to start the game, with the team looking mostly unable to handle Houston’s intensity and physicality. The bad starts have been mentioned, but the way the team responded to them deserves mention as well because they were able to recover both times to take the lead against a team that will have realistic Final Four aspirations come March. Abou Ousmane (8/4/2) battled against a physical and aggressive front line all night without limiting himself all that much through foul trouble. Daylin Swain (6/4/2) was matching up with guys who have been playing college basketball since he was 15 and had some turnover problems, but still was able to showcase his varied skillset, block a couple of shots, and went 6-6 from the line on a night where Xavier left some pretty vital points there. Desmond Claude (14/5/2) and Dayvion McKnight (7/6/2) both had pretty tough nights shooting the ball, but were vital in getting the game to Xavier’s pace as they battled back from Houston’s runs. The team went to the glass against a very good rebounding team and grabbed 37% of their own misses and assisted 13 of their 18 made baskets. The turnovers, the free throw shooting, and the fact they only made 18 shots from the floor are certainly not to be overlooked, but tonight featured a 30 minute sample of what this team could be and that was a pretty good basketball team. Turning that into 40 is the key, but tonight looked like progress and Coach Miller will continue to coax more out of this group as the season progresses.