What is it with games against Providence? Since the ‘19-’20 season, Xavier and Providence have played seven times (counting this game). Only one of those games was a snoozer.
The first matchup of the 19-20 season featured a monster performance from Tyrique Jones and the game swung back and forth before X put it away late. The second fixture was at The Dunk and was another back and forth game before Luwane Pipkins stole it late for the Friars.
20-21 saw the first game go to the Muskies who, after completely collapsing in the last four minutes, clinched victory thanks to a Colby Jones buzzer beater. The second game sucked for everyone involved. Providence won, and barely had to break a sweat doing it (this game was the snoozer).
Last year was a rough one in this matchup from a Xavier persepctive, but both games had moments to entertain the neutrals (and Providence fans). First, it was Jared Bynum nailing a huge three at Cintas with just 1.5 seconds left. A month later, a triple overtime thriller saw Dwon Odom drop Nate Watson, the roof spring a leak, and Jared Bynum hit another dagger three to bury the game.
Last night’s game continued the theme of this matchup being a dogfight. Xavier punched first with a 26-12 start in the opening 10 minutes. Zach Freemantle was absent, but Jerome Hunter filled the void as well as anyone on the roster could have. Big Rome set the tone early with his first of seven offensive rebounds coming just a minute in to the game. Jerome doesn’t have the same offensive versatility as Freemantle, but he is overawed by no one and gave Bryce Hopkins more than he could handle all night.
Obviously, things couldn’t stay easy the whole night. Providence closed the half strong and only trailed by four at the half. Noah Locke was having the time of his life behind the arc all night, and Ed Croswell was proving to be tough in the paint. Despite this, X didn’t shrink away from the challenge. Jack Nunge struggled to contain Croswell on defense but also dropped a cool 23/12/3 with only one turnover, so it was a decent trade-off.
As the game wore on, it became clear that Freemantle’s absence wasn’t going to expand the rotation. Des Claude was the bench and showed why he was trusted with 30 minutes. Des was, once again, relentless on defense and steady on the ball. When Hunter cramped up, Des stepped to the line and cashed out two clutch free throws in overtime.
Sean Miller said in the postgame presser that he would give a game ball to everyone who played. Looking at everyone who played extended periods of time in the game, it’s easy to see why. Colby Jones queitly took over for a stretch of the second half and ended with 20 points and some great defense when Jerome was sidelined. Souley Boum wasn’t hitting from deep, but adjusted by getting to the rim late and dishing nine assists. Jack Nunge took more of a burden down low and was a beast all night. Jerome Hunter and Des Claude both defended well all night and got on the glass hard while also combining for 16 points. Adam Kunkel didn’t hunt his shot, but hit a huge three late, dished five assists. The less said about his defense(?) on Noah Locke the better.
X was far from perfect to close this game. They had dumb turnovers, they were dreadful from the line, and didn’t take their chance to end the game in regulation. Despite all of this, despite Jared Bynum having a good look from the corner with a chance to crush X again, the Muskies still got the win. This win bumps them over Providence in the Big East standings, but, perhaps more importnatly, also gives us hope that they aren’t going to collapse in February.