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Xavier uses a first-half surge to bury Butler in a must-win game

Q1 win over the weekend? Check. Q2 win tonight? Check. BRING ON GEORGETOWN.

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

Xavier came out of the gate not great against Butler. After trading buckets early on, the Muskies allowed a 13-3 run that took just 2:32 that gave Butler a 16-8 lead. X got exactly 0 stops in that span, and the only two misses they forced were accompanied by offensive rebounds and made baskets by the visiting team. It was a remarkably flat start from a team that had buried Providence in their last half of play.

Looking for a spark, Sean Miller called timeout threw on the hero of that half, Trey Green. The results were immediate.

Out of the timeout, Trey drilled a three. Dayvion McKnight and Quincy Olivari combined for 5 points the next two trips down in exactly the combination you’re assuming. A Des Claude three-point play later, the home team was on top. It could have stopped there, but it didn’t.

The defense that allowed 16 points in the first 3:22 deserves a lot of the credit for the turnaround. Pierre Brooks nailed a three to put Butler up with 16:38 left on the clock for the first half. The next Butler field goal came at the 6:47 mark. During that time, Xavier had flipped an eight-point deficit to a sixteen-point advantage thanks to a 24-3 run punctuated by a top of the key three-pointer from Abou Ousmane. In his 104th D1 game, it was his first made three.

After allowing just three points in almost 10 minutes, the Xavier defense blinked a little. Butler scored 13 in the last 6 minutes to close the half, but Xavier answered with 11 of their own. With a 14-point lead at the interval, surely it would be smooth sailing the rest of the way, right?

It wasn’t. Having more or less won the first half with defense, the Muskies decided to swear it off in the second half. In the first 10 minutes after the break, they allowed Butler to shoot 10-16 from the floor. One disastrous spell of 2:12 saw Butler rip off a 13-0 run to go from down 58-47 to up 60-58. Posh Alexander - shooting 35.4% on all jumpers and 25.6% from three this year - hit four straight jumpers including three threes to account for eleven of the points on his own. I’m not even trying to be Kim English here; sometimes you’ve just gotta tip your cap.

Once again, it was Trey Green to the rescue. He showed the kind of quickness that Alexander is famed for in leaving his opposite number behind at the arc to hit an uncontested layup that stopped the bleeding and tied the game. X continued doing math on an 11-0 run that saw Posh Alexander miss two more jumpers, Des and Dayvion make layups, and Quincy stick a three. Thad Matta called timeout, having seen his brief lead turn into a nine-point deficit in two minutes.

It didn’t matter. Xavier had an answer for everything that Butler did, eventually stretching the run to 15-3 over just under 5 minutes. X kept letting Posh shoot jumpers, and the math ended up mathing, leading to empty possessions for the visitors. Des - suddenly the guy everyone cheering for Xavier was hoping he would be all year - couldn’t be kept out of the paint off the bounce, and he continued to collapse the defense to the benefit of himself, his teammates, and the Cintas faithful.

Over 20 minutes of second-half basketball, Xavier scored 39 and allowed the same amount. Their 14-point halftime advantage translated to a 14-point final margin. Aside from the couple of minutes in which Posh Alexander couldn’t miss, the Muskies controlled the game the whole way.

For 15 games, we kept telling each other that we just needed to let a team with 10 new guys come together and maybe things would be alright. In games 16 and 17, our patience has been rewarded. There’s a glimmer of hope growing on the horizon. The most important week in the history of the world is half over, and it’s going great so far.

Three takeaways

-Claude is Desveloping. Sorry. The reality is that, after having rightfully drawn some derision from the Xavier Twitterati, Des has flipped a switch of late. His 15/6/5 at UConn came on a 3-12 shooting line that obscured his 126 ORtg for the game. He then decimated Providence with 21/5/2 and tonight fed it to Butler to the tune of 26/3/4 with 0 turnovers. Best of all, he was nails from the line. I don’t know how each Bulldog sees himself as an individual, but what I could tell on the screen is that none of them wanted any part of what Des was dishing out with the ball in his hands.

-The domestic freshmen are thriving. Much has been made of Xavier’s foreign legion, and for good reason, but Trey Green and Dailyn Swain have made themselves at home in the Big East. Trey was a casual 2-2 from deep tonight, and his lone two-point bucket erased the only lead Butler held in the second half. Dailyn shot 3 times to score 0 points, but he added 5 points and 2 dimes, blocked a shot, and didn’t turn the ball over at all. These two aren’t being asked to carry the load; the way they’re playing their roles will do for the Muskies.

-Suddenly, X is awash with scoring options. Remember when the offense was throw it to Quincy and hope for the best? Well, he danced his way to a cool 15/7/5 and was 5-8 from deep today, but he wasn’t tasked with carrying the whole load. We discussed Des above. Dayvion McKnight scored 20 points and only needed 12 shots to do it. Trey Green is an absolute live wire whenever he touches the ball. Abou and Nemo combined for 2-3 from deep and 7 OReb to go with their 16 points and 6 assists. An offense that wasn’t always something to write home about in the non-con is clicking on all cylinders in Big East play.