By Andy Mac Williams, 1/14/2019

Hopefully, you were there or watched the game on FS1 with fellow Syracusan Dan Hoard doing play-by-play (Dan subbed for Andrew Catilon who was ill) or listened to Byron and Joe's animated call on 700WLW. The Muskies 70-69 comeback win over Butler was excellently epic IMHO. Let me quantify the relative magnitude of the effort. XU trailed BU 64-54 with exactly 4 minutes left in regulation time. Things appeared semi-hopeless. KenPom's metrics gave Xavier a 2.2% chance of winning. That's about a 1 in 50 shot.

Let's compare! December 16th 2017 at Cintas, the Muskies were down 22 to ETSU with 14:30 left in the second half in a box of chocolates game right after exams. X rallied to win 68-66. December 3rd 2011 at Cintas XU was down by 19 to Purdue with 10:44 left and climbed the mountain winning 66-63. Earlier that same season on the road Vanderbilt led Xavier by 9 with 3:20 remaining. The Muskies tied it and won 82-70 in OT.

Tu Holloway was the architect of both those amazing comebacks in 2011. On a neutral court you might remember the NCAA Sweet 16 game in San Jose two years ago against Top 10 Arizona. Sean Miller's UA team led by 8 with 3:45 left and an Elite 8 berth on the line. The Wildcats had a 97% of winning or so said Ken Pomeroy. X flipped the script and won 73-71.

The Butler win is BIG!! It's in the BIG EAST against a team the Muskies might be compared against for an NCAA at large bid. It's a great building block for Team 97 and confirms there is a pattern with Travis Steele's first team.

They are resilient and respond well quickly to adversity. They finished the BIG EAST opener at DePaul on a 19-4 run to win 74-65 on the road after trailing by 6 with under 5 to play. X seemed dead and buried against Georgetown at Cintas-down 17 at 39-22. Travis abused a clip board and the boys responded to post an 81-75 victory.

Against Butler Travis took a technical after the zebras allowed BU guard Kamar Baldwin to change pivot feet repeatedly like a contestant on "Dancing with the Stars". X pressed and spurted and made FTs. Kyle Castlin drained a wing "three" on a terrific skip pass from Paul Scruggs to tie at 69-69.

Butler turned the ball over and Naji Marshall dribbled the c lock down-attacked the basket and wound up making the second FT for a 70-69 lead. Then Steele implemented the defense with 3.2 seconds left. He put Zach Hankins on Butler in-bounder Nate Fowler.

Everybody knew the ball was going to speedy lefty Baldwin. X forced Kamar to catch the ball going away from the basket and the Muskies threw hands straight up to avoid fouling. The plan worked. Baldwin got off a weak shot off the dribble. Epic comeback complete!!!


Kudos to Xavier's buildings and grounds folks!! The streets and walkways and parking lots around Cintas were in great shape despite the early morning snowfall. Second semester classes resumed Monday. The student section was jammed for Butler and they were animated and creative. The juice they supplied helped sustain the late rally.

Ryan Welage had a tough shooting day(0-7 from three), but a lip reading friend of mine caught Travis telling him to "keep shooting". Steele believes in positive reinforcement and Welage's long successful sniping from outside. Ryan had a key steal in the late rally.

Kyle Castlin started and played 35 minutes(His most PT of the season after logging just 42 minutes total over the previous 4 games). Kyle scored 12 with 7 rebounds-3 assists and zero turnovers. The huge "three" he hit to tie at 69-69 was his first outside make since December 5th vs Ohio( 8 game drought-0-10 slump). He soaked up injured Quentin Gooden minutes BIG TIME.

XU dominated the stat sheet-winning the rebound column 40-29 with 17 offensive boards(O rebounds are considered the ultimate effort stat), X owned the FT line(19-25 vs 8-12 for Butler). The Muskies won the turnover war with 10 to BU's 11. The Bulldogs had a BIG edge in bench points(30-3) and BU made 9 threes to XU's 7.

IMHO Butler will be starting Duke transfer Jordan Tucker very soon. He is a Cadillac athlete with 3 point range. He rebounds and draws fouls. Tucker played 25 minutes against Xavier productively(12 points-8 rebounds-2 assists-2 steals).

The refs were slow with the whistle numerous times. Baldwin is a star and he got star treatment on his frequent pirouette forays into the lane. Joey Brunk tossed up a terrible shot from almost behind the back board with 2:16 left and Xavier trailing 66-64. He had no angle, because Zach Hankins pinned him against the baseline. Brunk went up awkwardly as Hankins fell back. No contact! The shot barely drew iron. Foul on Hankins?? No way!! Horrible call!!

Brunk proceeded to brick both FTS and the crowd went absolutely bonkers. Justice!! Yes!! X had little margin for error though. If Brunk scores, it might have been curtains??

Both Paul Scruggs and Naji Marshall played the entire 40 minutes. It was Paul's second straight complete game and Naji's third in a row. Iron men with an oakleaf cluster!

Scruggs was beyond excellent at PG(23 points with 5 made threes-8 rebounds-6 assists) plus sticky defense against Baldwin who was contained with just 6 FGs and forced into 4 turnovers. Scruggs is now avoiding foul trouble despite the heavy work load and the tough defensive assignments.

Watch out though! Friday he may guard Villanova 5th year star Phil Booth(two time NCAA Champ). XU at Villanova this Friday(8:30 Tip-FS1 at the big downtown Philadelphia arena Wells Fargo Center.

VU leads the BIG EAST at 4-0. They're ranked in AP this week(#22) with a 5 game win streak. X is 0-5 vs Villanova in Philly since the dawning of the New BIG EAST and none of the games have been close. Chris Mack referred to the VU trip as "OUR ANNUAL PHILADELPHIA ASS KICKING". Dare I dream "upset"?? Why not!! It's "Just us" from Steele and his players on TEAM 97 and I promise you they think they can win against Nova.


Two teams are rated this week. Marquette moves up to #15(4-1 BE). Villanova is back in at #22(4-0 BE). XU is tied for third with Seton Hall at 3-2 BE. The latest NCAA NET has Marquette #19, Villanova #29, ST Johns #37, Seton Hall #39, Butler #48, Creighton #55, Xavier #77, DePaul #91, PC #97 and Georgetown #101.

A Xavier win at Villanova would provide a strong NET boost with a road victory over a Top 50 team. We'll have a full Scouting Report on Villanova posted Wednesday.

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