Xavier ran into either the best or second best team remaining in the tournament tonight. All week we talked about how Xavier would have to be at their best to beat Texas. The Longhorns are ferocious on defense, relentless on offense, and capable of burying even the very best of teams.
Tonight, Xavier wasn’t that. The Musketeers, save a valiantly fighting Adam Kunkel, simply didn’t have it tonight. Jack Nunge missed at least eight shots he usually makes and inside the first 10 minutes missed three layups. Colby Jones was a total non-factor. Souley Boum’s tournament to forget carried into a third game as he just could not get it going.
There are a lot of things we could say about this game going bad. It did in almost every possible way. Xavier was too slow, shot too poorly, couldn’t defend, and had no coaching answers for anything that Rodney Terry’s team did. By the time the young Xavier fans curled up next to moms and dads on coaches finally called it a night, they had learned the hard way that sports fandom mostly involves sinking your heart into something you love and then watching it die in front of you.
Maybe that’s what you’ll remember from this year. I won’t blame you if you do. We tend to remember what happens in March. That’s the beauty and the brutality of college basketball.
But I’d ask you not to dwell on that. Remember instead, last March 19th when Xavier took the first step forward out of a dark age. Remember Sean Miller’s first press conference back, the unveiling ceremony, and his appearances on every great podcast and college basketball show in the nation.
Remember Jack Nunge. A giant kid with a giant heart who moved here to be closer to his family after tragedy struck. Tonight wasn’t his night, but so many other nights were. He waved and flexed occasionally, but he was mostly a gentle giant who was also utterly dominant at times. He tormented Pitt in the second round here, but he also obliterated Bryce Hopkins this season, racked up monster numbers in the Big East, and was generally the kind of person you’re happy to have your kids look up to.
And what about Souley Boum? We all wish the nation could have seen the player he was all season on the biggest stage, but the legs finally left him. When they were fresh though, he verged on unstoppable. He announced himself to Xavier Nation as a deadeye three point shooter and then became a guy who could just take games over. He killed off UC in the Shootout, dropped 23 on West Virginia, scored 33 against Providence, and went for 22/10/6 as Xavier finally, finally, won at Villanova.
This season saw Colby Jones become a star in games where sometimes the plan was just to throw him the ball and see what happened. It saw Zach Freemantle re-emerge as a dominant post presence who was Xavier’s most effective inside scorer until his injury robbed him of the grandstand finish he earned. It saw another freshman in Des Claude emerge on the scene, struggle, put his head down and fight, struggle some more, and end up a vital part of the rotation.
And this season saw Adam Kunkel finish out his college career. He came to Xavier as a spot up shooter and left in a game where he almost singlehandedly tried to fight the Musketeers into the Elite Eight. Calling him scrappy and crafty is both accurate and does a tremendous disservice to his game. Kunk would have fit in at the height of the Zip Em Up Era. He’s both all heart and an absolutely tremendous player. His constant chirping during timeouts, tv breaks, on the court, in the huddle, in the locker room, and generally any time he could talk was one of the most hilarious parts of the season.
But most of all, please, remember how fun Xavier basketball can be. Forget the disputes of the last four years and the pain and arguments they caused. Forget the bleak excitement of filling out a bracket with nary and X on it. Remember instead the fun of roaring back against Kennesaw St, of hammering a Crosstown rival again, and of beating prohibitive title favorite UConn twice. Remember slapping aside Providence twice when they tried to step up to the big kid’s table, remember beating Bob Huggins and his vaunted defense with vicious offensive performance, and remember the elation of seeing that big, bold, X come up on the board on Selection Sunday.
This season didn’t end well, but it was a great season. The four of us thank every single one of you who read, commented, tweeted, discussed, argued, mourned, and celebrated with us this season. We’ll recap this season, keep you posted, and be right back here when the next one tips off. We love this team, and we know you love it, too. Xavier basketball is fun again. Xavier basketball is back.