With all the uncertainties of the 2020 College Basketball season, the Xavier Musketeers & Cincinnati Bearcats met on Sunday afternoon for one of college basketball's most underrated rivalries. Xavier, off to an impressive 5-0 start, traveled the short distance to Fifth Third Arena and took on the Bearcats in a hard-fought battle edging out the Bearcats 77-69.
Xavier was led by senior Paul Scruggs and sophomore Zach Freemantle, who set the tone on both ends of the court early for the Musketeers. Scruggs was as efficient as one can be, totaling 20 points on 6-10 shooting, 8-8 from the free-throw line while also having five rebounds and assists. It seemed that any time Xavier needed a bucket or a stop on the defensive end, Scruggs was the one to make a big play. Freemantle asserted himself whether it was in the form of a pick and pop for an open three-pointer or establishing his presence in the paint. Freemantle finished with 16 points and nine rebounds. This duo provided a spark that all Xavier fans will be hoping carries over throughout the season. The Musketeers also received good news this weekend when Colby Jones, Adam Kunkel, & C.J. Wilcher were all deemed eligible; the three newcomers all provided a spark in limited minutes today. This allows Xavier to have more depth off the bench and help this team grow to their maximum potential.
As for the Bearcats, they were led by senior Keith Williams and the junior Michigan transfer David DeJulius. Williams finished with 18 while DeJulius had 16; the Bearcats made it a point of emphasis to attack the basket early and often resulting in a lot of easy transition points. But in the second half, credit to Xavier's adjustments, the Bearcats offense became stagnant, often settling for contested jump shots early in the shot clock. Jeremiah Davenport had a nice stretch in the second half on both ends of the court; his defensive intensity allowed the Bearcats to get out in transition and penetrate the lane to kick out to their open shooters on the wing. But late in the second half, whether it was fatigue or a lack of execution, the Bearcats saw their lead dwindle away as Paul Scruggs and Xavier took the lead. The Bearcats had a few opportunities from the free-throw line to limit the growing lead, but they could not capitalize, resulting in the Bearcats losing back to back years in the Crosstown Shootout. This was only the second game of the year for the Bearcats; as the year goes on, I'm hoping a third option will arise to help a strong tandem of DeJulius and Williams to help the Bearcats contend for an AAC conference title.
With every few hours, games are being canceled due to COVID-19 protocols; it was a refreshing day at Fifth Third Arena; I'm excited to watch both the Musketeers and Bearcats grow and develop this year. Up next for Xavier is Oklahoma in the Big East / Big 12 Challenge. While Cincinnati takes on Furman on Wednesday night. Look for another recap podcast with Tim Daniel and me this week, highlighting all things College Basketball.