(Photo by Nick Kirby @nicholaspkirby)
by Tim Daniel
Xavier officially has picked up their first statement win in the second Sean Miller era.
As part of the Big East/Big 12 challenge, the West Virginia Mountaineers came to the Cintas Center led by former crosstown rival Cincinnati Bearcats coach Bob Huggins. WVU played the type of game you'd expect from a Huggins lead team. Forced turnovers, battled on the glass, and put a ton of pressure on the ball handler in both the full and half-court offense.
On the other end, the Xavier defense still had its fair share of struggles. The Mountaineers were able to take full advantage of Xavier's inability to guard the perimeter allowing West Virginia to pour in a ton of three-point baskets. West Virginia also forced Xavier into a few offensive fouls, or maybe Brian O'Connell gave them a few of the fouls, I don't know you be the judge.
At the half, West Virginia held a 43-36 lead, and Xavier point guard Souley Boum had 3 fouls called against him. Not only were Xavier's potential foul issues rearing their head, but West Virginia was knocking what felt like every shot down including shooting 78% from three in the half. Erik Stevenson lead all scorers with 14 points, and when Xavier got the crowd back in the game Stevenson hit a shot a gave the "shush" notion like he was Chad Gable on Monday Night Raw.
Xavier went into the half with eight turnovers, and multiple lengthy scoring droughts on offense. But in the second half, the switch flipped and something changed in the home team.
Desmond Claude started the second half with Boum's foul trouble, came down, and hit a mid-range jumper to get the half started. For the first five minutes of the half, the teams were trading scores until Xavier went on a 6-0 run to finally break through and take the 56-55 lead. Although the Mountaineers would go and take it back, Xavier once again found a needed response.
With just under seven minutes remaining in the game, Tre Mitchell made a free throw to extend the WVU lead to 68-65. Over the next minute of play, Jack Nunge and Jerome Hunter both got a few baskets to go on another 6-0 run and give Xavier a 69-68 lead. Going into the final media timeout Souley Boum drew a foul from three-point range, the Musketeers were holding the slightest of leads when Boum returned from the timeout to hit all 3 free throws and extend Xavier's lead to 5. From there, the game was in hand and the Musketeers got a much-needed win.
Xavier is now 6-3. They are one of the few teams in the country to have already played five schools from the Power 5 conference and four top 30 teams on KenPom. This team, though with its lack of defense at times, is starting to learn quite a bit about themselves. They know they can rely on their starting five to contribute when healthy. Adam Kunkel returned tonight and gave the team 11 points, and also contributed a lot with a blocked shot and crashed the offensive boards a few times. Souley Boum has become an instant favorite of the Musketeer faithful but he's also a terrific scorer the team can count on in a crunch.
Tonight, one big thing Xavier has been looking for was a nice spark off the bench. That is where Jerome Hunter came in. Hunter got Xavier back on track defensively this evening from what Coach Miller described in his post-game presser. Hunter managed to guard shooters, big men, and wings throughout the game and also contributed with timely rebounds to give Xavier second-chance points.
With just two more games to go until Big East play begins, the next game is seven days away for Xavier, and it's the game. The Crosstown shootout, at Fifth Third Arena against the Cincinnati Bearcats. Tip-off will be at 3:00 PM.