Well, that was nerve wracking. Xavier hadn’t won a Big East tournament game since March 14th of 2019. That ended today, but my goodness was it a struggle. DePaul seemed constitutionally incapable of missing for most of the first half while Xavier seemed really eager to get to Selection Sunday. Whatever Coach Sean Miller said at halftime certainly helped, but Xavier couldn’t get back into the game when Umoja Gibson was deep in his bag. Gibson picked up his fourth foul with 7:49 to go. From then on Xavier went into closing mode. The Musketeers erased an eight point deficit on their way to winning by five. If only it had been as easy as that sentence was to type.
Umoja Gibson controlled this game
If Gibson had not gotten into foul trouble, Xavier would have lost. Gibson went for 22/1/6 with an efficiency of 136 in 29 minutes. His usage rate of 34% was higher than anyone else in the game. Xavier had no answer for him. Souley Boum was essentially a traffic cone when Gibson had the ball, and moving Colby Jones on to him meant that the defense opened up elsewhere. Tony Stubblefield, most noted for covering up sexual assaults, continued to put Gibson into screen action that Xavier could not solve. Thank God he got into foul trouble, or Xavier would be done right now.
Colby Jones was the man when Xavier needed one
For the first half of the game, Colby Jones was really bad. He had four points and more turnovers than made field goals. At the end, Jones poured in eight of Xavier’s last 12. When Xavier absolutely had to have buckets, Colby Jones went and got the ball, got downhill, and would not be denied. He was vicious. Sean Miller could not say enough about the way Colby took the game over. Three steals, 10-19 from the floor, no turnovers in the last 20. It wasn’t even a vintage Jones performance. It was better than that.
Adam Kunkel and Jack Nunge will be the unsung heroes
With Xavier down 13 in the second half, Kunkel hit a three. That cut it to 10. When DePaul stretched it back out to seven later, Kunkel scored six of Xavier’s next nine with four free throws and a layup. Kunk is smart enough to know that there are dogs who can take a game over at any time. His job is to make sure they are in position to do so. When no one else could get anything going and Colby Jones hadn’t gone Terminator mode yet, Kunkel bridged the gap.
Jack Nunge was easily Xavier’s MVP for the game. He had 23/10/4, didn’t turn the ball over, and had the best steal of the game with a back tap that found Colby Jones for a three. Nunge alternated looked gassed with out jumping guys that should be able to beat him to the rim. He was immense.
Xavier won’t beat a good team playing like that
DePaul gave Xavier a scare today, but make no mistake, the Blue Demons are not a good team. They and their morally vacuous coach will finish the season 141st in the KenPom and having lost 13 of 14. They’re bad on offense, bad on defense, and would be bad on special teams if basketball had that. They also just nearly beat Xavier.
The Musketeers defense in this game was appalling. DePaul was 14-18 to start the game and finished with a shooting line of .614/.500/.857. That X somehow beat a team that shot like that is almost incomprehensible. If Creighton or Nova shoots like that against Xavier tomorrow, the Musketeers will lose by 15. Coach Miller and his staff will have to figure something out, because you can bet they are going to start seeing a lot of high screen and slip action.
Survive and advance
Those are problems for tomorrow, though. For tonight, Xavier wins. Coach Miller said in the post game that if you lose “you get back on that bus and it is over.” That’s not Xavier. Not tonight.