by Tim Daniel
"Before the game, I was getting chills. I could tell the atmosphere was just so different, and the crowd was amazing tonight. It was awesome out there."
Those were the words from transfer forward Jack Nunge in tonight's press conference after the Xavier Musketeers get a huge win over their in-city rival the University of Cincinnati.
When you have a performance like Nunge had tonight, you will often have these performances lead to that game being named after you. This game will forever be remembered in the history of the Crosstown Shootout as "the Jack Nunge game" as Nunge scored 31 points and had 15 rebounds in his Crosstown debut.
"Jack is a talented player," said senior guard Paul Scruggs. "He's a great addition to the team. When he came in he just fell right in with us. He fits perfect with us."
Nunge impressed quite a bit on the offensive boards, grabbing 7 rebounds. "That's something we emphasize every day in practice, is crashing the offensive glass, trying to get good position on your defenders and if the ball bounces your way you gotta get it," Nunge said about his big game on the boards. While Jack Nunge was the star of the game and collects his third Junk Yard Dog award of the season, this was also a very special night for senior guard Paul Scruggs.
Tonight, Scruggs became the first Xavier player in history to win four games in the Skyline Chili Crosstown Shootout. "It's amazing," Scruggs explained in the post-game presser. "I really don't have no words, just amazing."
To go along with his historic accomplishment, Scruggs also had a big game with 14 points along with five rebounds and five assists. As Scruggs and Nunge checked out of the game for the final time, they were greeted with a standing ovation from the Xavier faithful and also received a huge from their Head Coach Travis Steele.
This is the best rivalry in College Basketball, and I wholeheartedly believe that," Travis Steele told the media in his opening statement. "You have Duke/Carolina. You obviously have UK/Louisville, but there's not a more unique rivalry to this game. You have two excellent programs here in the city of Cincinnati."
With tonight's win, Travis Steele now has his third straight win over the Cincinnati Bearcats, but if you ask Steele. Tonight's win was about the performances of his players.
"They're (Cincinnati) a really good defensive team, Coach Miller has them playing hard. They're big, they're feisty, they're disruptive, they block a lot of shots."
"Really proud of our guys. Paul Scruggs, I thought he set the tone for us early on in the game. He's just a warrior, he's a winner." Steele described
"To see Jack Nunge have success, I'm sure you all know how much adversity he's been through in his life, and just to see the success he's having here at Xavier just makes me smile."
With tonight's win, Xavier advances to 9-1 on the season and will have one final non-conference game this Wednesday night against Morehead State at 8:30 PM EST.
While everything went well for Xavier tonight, Wes Miller and his staff don't have a lot they can take away from this game.
"Gotta tip your cap to Xavier, they were ready to play, they have a really good Basketball team, they were quicker to the ball tonight, they executed their offensive gameplan well, they made it difficult to execute what we do offensively. We got our tail kicked in every way you can get it kicked." Coach Miller said in his opening presser.
When Coach Miller was asked what he wished his team was better prepared for, he mentioned it was a long list. "I was really disappointed in our ball-screen defensive coverage, thought that's been a strength of our team at this point in the year. I didn't do a good job of working on that this week. That sticks out, we've been harping on the defensive glass thing."
"We looked like a poorly coached team tonight and that's when as a coach you need to look into the mirror and say I gotta do better."
Xavier really took Cincinnati off-rhythm when they were mixing their defenses including at times using a 2-2-1 zone defense. Something the Musketeers haven't used a lot.
"Give them credit, listen it's a rivalry and we gotta compete better and we don't like them, they don't like us, that type of thing I'm gonna be totally into that. But give credit, they were good tonight and I'm man enough to sit up here and say they did well."
At the 12:42 mark in the first half, Ody Oguama hit two free throws for the Bearcats to give them an 11-10 lead. After giving up a basket to Jack Nunge 20 seconds later, the Bearcats did not gain the lead the rest of the game. Xavier ended the half on a 32-16 run, getting to a big 42-27 lead going into the break. From there, the Musketeers kept the train rolling coming out guns blazing in the second half.
With 7:44 remaining in the game, Dwon Odom hit two free throws to give Xavier their biggest lead of the night, which was 70-43. At that point, the game was all but over with the Musketeers looking like the better team.
The Bearcats have leaned all season on players like Jeremiah Davenport and Mika Adams-Woods who Xavier did a great job keeping from taking over the game. Davenport was just 3-10 from the floor, Adams-Woods shot 2-11. Though in their struggles, the team did get a surprising lift from transfer John Newman III. Newman scored 14 points on 4/5 shooting and was 5/7 from the free-throw line. Xavier managed to also push the Bearcats into foul trouble fairly early entering the double-bonus in the second half with quite a bit of time left on the clock.
At the end of the day, this is a game Bearcat fans would like to forget, and turn the page.
The Bearcats have a quick turnaround this week as they will be hosting Florida A&M this Tuesday.