by Taylor Bergfeld
Finneran Pavilion continues to be a house of horrors for the Xavier men’s basketball team.
The Musketeers traveled to Philadelphia on Tuesday evening, in search of a signature win to solidify their status as the top team in the Big East. It was a true “tale of two halves” game, as Xavier torched the nets in the 1st Half shooting 6/9 from three-point land. Nate Johnson, Dwon Odom, and Adam Kunkel proved their importance to this team as sharpshooters from the outside.
The first half played more to Xavier’s style of play, as the Muskies were able to get out and run and put relentless pressure on the Wildcat guards. Xavier took an 8 point lead into the half, but in true “Jekyll and Hyde” fashion this game would do a 180.
The most alarming stat of the night came in the second half, after Nate Johnson was near perfect in the 1st half from deep, the Musketeers went 0-14 in the second half as a unit.
Let’s not overlook the importance of this game for Villanova, the Wildcats are coming off back-to-back 20 point losses, the first time that has happened since 2012.
Jay Wright, arguably one of the top 3 coaches in college basketball today. made key halftime adjustments to slow down the Musketeers’ offense. The defensive pressure was turned up immensely, the Wildcats forced Xavier to miss its first four shots and capitalized on five turnovers to start the second half.
The Wildcats, unlike their past few games, found success from three-point land and used that to take the lead off of a Caleb Daniels three. Villanova was 23/100 in their past 5 games from deep, although it wasn’t great the Wildcats made 6 threes tonight that proved to be a crucial factor late in this Big East battle. Villanova looked like the pre-season top 5 teams tonight in the second half, establishing their dominance on the defensive end and attacking the rim. Justin Moore and Collin Gillespie lead the charge in 2h, and their back-to-back buckets with 1:32 remaining on the game proved to be the final blow. “That second half was one of our best halves defensively so far this year”. Wright said.
That effort allowed Villanova to improve to 15-2 since Xavier joined the Big East in 2013 and 6-0 at the Pavilion. It’s time for those who thought about selling their Villanova National Championship stock to reconsider, if the Wildcats can play defense like they did tonight, they can battle with anyone.
Overall, this was a great litmus test for Xavier right before the holidays, it allows the Musketeers to re-evaluate how to successfully put two halves together in a primetime matchup. Xavier will have exactly one week to prepare for another pivotal matchup in the Big East against UCONN.
As always be on the lookout for our daily best bets segment on Twitter, and our postgame write-ups/videos. Until next time, Happy Holidays!