by Tim Daniel
This is easily the most anticipated Cincinnati Sports weekend in quite some time. While the COVID makeup game between Xavier and UCONN may not necessarily be the reason why, hopefully, the Musketeers victory is the start of a memorable weekend in the Queen City.
This game was an absolute Big East battle, a typical game that modeled what older fans of the conference would say were the glory days.
"That was an absolute war. You know when you play a UCONN team, I told our guys there one of the most hard playing, physical teams in the entire country," Coach Travis Steele said about the Huskies. We didn't get much time to prepare for this game since we got back from Seton Hall so late but our guys have a ton of respect for UCONN."
A UCONN team who is one of the best rebounding teams in the country got beat on the boards by the Musketeers behind big rebound performances from Jack Nunge and Zach Freemantle each with nine boards.
Xavier also did a great job taking care of the ball with only ten turnovers through the game, only four of those came in the first half of the game which helped the Musketeers take the lead into the half after a game-changing three-pointer from Nate Johnson at the buzzer.
What was most impressive tonight for Xavier was the ability to respond. They were on a two-game losing streak, had a quick turnaround with just one day off, and still managed to beat a top 25 team picking up their ninth Quadrant 1 victory of the season so far. The team shot 49% from the floor, and also were 18/26 from the free-throw line. They did struggle to hit from deep, not because of bad shot selection but shots just weren't falling. Nate Johnson and Jack Nunge each made two three-pointers tonight and those were the only made 3's through the game.
The Musketeers also did a great job facilitating as well including Colby Jones leading the way with six assists. Down the stretch, as the team was trying to put the game away, Xavier went with a three-ball-handler lineup using Jones, Paul Scruggs, and Dwon Odom all on the floor at the same time with Nunge and Zach Freemantle.
"We had a couple of turnovers, we gotta take better care of the ball with that lineup but that's our best ball-handler lineup. (UCONN) went to a 1-3-1 zone with Andre Jackson at the top and go 2-3 zone when the ball went to the corners. When teams press, that's our best lineup it gives us a lot of flexibility." Coach Steele mentioned in regards to that lineup.
Colby Jones also seemed to enjoy that lineup. "I feel like it's crucial especially in those last few minutes when you need to take care of the ball. I'm thankful coach has the trust in me, Paul, and Dwon to put us in the right spots.
This win for Xavier puts them at 17-7 on the season and 7-6 in the Big East. The team will get some well-deserved rest before their next game on Wednesday against St. John's. St. John's is currently 13-10overall, 5-7 in Big East play, and lost their last game to Villanova. St. John's will also play UCONN on Sunday at 12 PM EST.
Tonight, Xavier guard Nate Johnson wore the KD 14 Aunt Pearl sneakers. The shoes are well known for being a tribute to Kevin Durant's late Aunt Pearl, a story that hits close to home for Johnson.
"My auntie passed away from Breast Cancer" Johnson explained in the post-game presser "So I'm always trying to spread awareness to that."
Tonight, Johnson seemed to find a bit of his swagger with 12 points on 4/8 shooting from the floor. Johnson left the game early with a knee injury but explained it was nothing major and he is okay.
Run through Nunge:
Early in the game, the Musketeers ran their offense through Jack Nunge. Jack was able to exploit some of the issues for UCONN throughout the day. "We worked on the last few weeks with the big, working on the pick and pop with me and Paul because it's really hard to guard," Nunge finished the game with 22 points along with his nine rebounds.
Technicals bury the Huskies' chance at victory.
UCONN fought hard through the game, really overall was an evenly fought battle, but as Xavier was trying to pull the game away, Dan Hurley and crew only helped with two major technicals at bad times. Hurley, who lived outside the coach's box the majority of the game was called for a technical foul with 3:49 remaining giving Nate Johnson two technical free-throws that he knocked down. With 1:12 to go, UCONN's Andre Jackson spiked a ball into the student section after a dead ball was called drawing another technical leading to Jack Nunge getting two free throws.