Xavier outlives Marquette 80-71 to go 1-0 in Big East game

For a Xavier team that has passed every test they’ve faced this season except for a combination of the flu and a red state of Iowa, today marked another impressive notch in erasing a lead that rose to 9 in the first half to put away the charges from Shaka Smart, who came into it in hopes of securing a major road victory to revive their NCAA tournament hopes.

Xavier’s struggles were somewhat familiar in a first half which saw them struggle as much in attack as at any time since the ISU loss. Faced with a defense determined to put pressure on the ball, challenging the shot at the rim harshly and, for lack of a better description, making as many fouls as possible and hoping the refs wouldn’t call him, Xavier fell in love with three pointers on the dribble and misses the free kicks. Surprisingly, ball safety wasn’t the problem some might have anticipated, with Xavier only returning the ball 6 times in the first 20 minutes. In the first 13 minutes, however, Xavier would take 10 three points, only 3 of which came in, and the Musketeers’ inability to generate an attack made Marquette seem comfortable defending a team that had made opponents everything. except during the last 3 weeks.

When all three don’t fall and the opponent has a rim protector like Kur Kuath making life difficult for big men, a guard who can come down and create shots for himself and others is the key to throwing a attack. Luckily, on that almost comically well-supplied Xavier roster, they just have the man for the job in Dwon Odom. With the confidence to lead the way against players one foot taller than him and the touch to charge those orders, Odom resumed play for the last 6 minutes of the first half. He had 8 points and a steal in a 10-2 race that lasted just 2 minutes and pointed the way forward for Xavier. Despite all their willingness to argue and slap the running backs, Marquette lacked a guard capable of staying ahead of Odom and paid dearly as the runner-up hit a career-high 19 points from just 9 field goal attempts on the land in just 21 minutes. No one the Golden Eagles threw at # 11 was good enough for the job and Xavier, acknowledging this, ruthlessly exploited that fact to regain control of the game.

That’s not to say the second half was fun. After running a 12-4 run before the first media timeout to increase the lead to 10, Xavier quickly found his offense in the sand. This led to a choppy second half, in which neither team really gained momentum most of the time. Xavier’s lead persisted between 4-8 for 10 minutes after the first media timeout before Jack Nunge (12/13/0) brought the score to 69-60 with 6:10 remaining, which appears having put the momentum firmly behind Xavier in their bid to see the game come out. Marquette eventually built up a run of good possessions, thanks to Tyler Kolek who was finally able to play an extended stretch without fail, and chased a 9-1 run to question the result.

With free throws continuing to be a weakness and their opponents having them on the ropes, Xavier’s fifth-year goaltender entered the winning time and made it his own. No, not the one who usually does that, the other one. Nate Johnson already had 14 points from 3/6 from deep, but found a way to make a few more plays down the stretch to seal X’s victory. First, he found Colby Jones (11/8 / 0) for a short runner down the lane to push the lead back to 3. He cleared the next defensive rebound for X and, on the possession that followed, found Jack Nunge on a well executed slide to the basket for a dunk that rocked the Cintas Center and the momentum back with Xavier. After Dwon Odom and Greg Elliot split by two points, Odom found Johnson in the corner thanks to a crumbling defense and Gardner Webb’s transfer found only net on his 4th three of the game to push his line at 5/17/4 and put the last nails in Marquette’s coffin.

As a rule of thumb, if a team can hold a pair of preseason All Conference players 13 points out of 5-15 off the floor, you’d imagine that team had a good chance of winning. This theory would not explain how deep this Xavier team is, however. One night when Scruggs (5/1/5) shot didn’t fall, Jones was not at his usual level of efficiency, Kunkel (3/1/0) never really found his place in the game , and Freemantle (8/9/3) alternating between bright and maddening, Xavier still got the job done as they had other players who could step into the void and gain the upper hand. It’s the mark of a special team and, judging by tonight’s evidence, this team has a chance to be just that.

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