For about 11 minutes, you could be forgiven for feeling like you’d seen this one before. Xavier actually got off to a good start, riding a couple of early buckets from Desmond Claude to take a 9-4 lead. Then the wheels fell off.
For a stretch of 6:35 that started right before the first media timeout, the Muskies couldn’t buy a bucket and couldn’t get a stop. The Friars put on a 24-8 run in which Xavier forced just two missed shots, both of which turned into offensive rebounds and scores for Providence. Against the #145 offense in the nation, Xavier’s defense got 0 stops in a nearly 7-minute stretch of play that threatened to bury the game and all but do the same to the season.
Slowly, inexorably, the Musketeers clawed back. Des Claude, whose 19 first-half points put the team on his back when everyone was still waiting to arrive, got a defensive rebound and took it all the way himself. X got another stop and a defensive rebound; Dayvion McKnight scored one himself and set up Trey Green for the first of his five threes on the day. The teams traded buckets from there until a Devin Carter three put the home team up 36-28 and threatened to hold X at bay.
Then Sean Miller put on the press. Des Claude scored, then Quincy Olivari turned a steal into a three. The teams exchanged empty possessions, but Xavier forced another turnover that turned into a Dailyn Swain dunk. Two more Providence turnovers led to a Des Claude three, and suddenly X was ahead. The teams exchanged baskets heading into the half, and a half that had started with all the markers of disaster ended with a 13-4 run and a 41-40 lead for Xavier.
In a game the Muskies desperately needed to win, they came out of the half possessed. Olivari drilled a three to start things off. Nemo and Abou followed with buckets, and Dayvion cashed out a pair of free throws. Devin Carter’s three with 16:39 left on the clock was Providence’s first basket of the half; their second wouldn’t come for another 5:18.
In that time, the Muskies took a stanglehold on the game that they never really let up. In the first 8:39 of the first half, Xavier held Providence to 1-11/1-9/2-2 shooting with 2 turnovers and 0 offensive rebounds. They outscored their opponents 23-5 in that stretch and increased their win probability per ESPN from 44% to 98.6%. It was a barrage of mythic proportions punctuated by a three-possession stretch that went Nemo three, Nemo three, Des Claude miss, OReb, kick out to Trey Green for three. If Providence had been holding out hope prior to that stretch, it was clear that the straw that broke the camel’s back had arrived.
Xavier finally got it across the line, and they did so in emphatic fashion. Despite being 2-3 in conference play, Xavier has actually put up a +19 scoring margin in those 5 games. Now they head home to host Butler and Georgetown with a chance to establish some much-needed momentum before heading on the road for game at Creighton and UConn. In a season that has felt like drowning, the Muskies refuse to stop clawing for the surface.
-Des Claude is warming up. There were questions, to put it lightly, about Xavier’s sophomore wing when his season hit a nadir with a 5-17 performance in a one-point loss at Villanova. He put those to rest a bit today by scoring 19 of Xavier’s 41 first-half points to keep them in the game. He went a bit silent in the second half, but you’d take 21/5/2 on 9-16/3-6/0-1 shooting from him any day. He led from the front today.
-Trey Green has arrived. He’s not going to just go ahead and average a performance like today’s from here on out, but he was on an absolute blinder in the second half today. After scoring a gentleman’s 5 in the first half, he exploded for 18 in the second. It seemed like every time Providence was making overtures at making it a game, he was right there to answer, usually with a monster three. He dropped 23 and 6 on 9-14/5-8/0-0 and could not have looked more like the man for the moment than he did. He absolutely wanted it, and the Friars had no answer.
-The Muskies’ press is a weapon. I made a bit of a big deal about how Providence’s offense was butt in the preview, then they went out and slapped up 36 points in 16 minutes to open the game. Xavier threw on some ball pressure, and it was like a switch being flipped. They held the Friars to 29 points in 24 minutes, turning the game from a contest into a laugher in less time than it takes to tell about it. X got stops, flustered the Friars, and turned defense into offense as they walked away with the game. Sean Miller may have found something here.