Shorthanded Musketeers Accomplish Greatest Comeback in History of Cintas Center
Xavier received a significant scare in a game in which they were favored by over 20 points against East Tennessee State. The Musketeers came off of a week of exams and limited practice and it showed for most of the game. However, behind Trevon Bluiett's late game heroics and 18 points, the Muskies survived to win 68-66 in front of another Cintas Center sellout of 10,432 strong.
From the initial tip there was an awkward energy about the Musketeers. The fast starts that fans had grown accustomed to were only memories as both teams limped out of the gate. After 4 minutes, Xavier only held a 9-5 lead which slightly unsettled an anxious crowd early on. This anxiety was well founded as 7 footer Peter Jerkin for ETSU dictated the game on both ends of the floor early on with 4 blocks and his first three pointer of the season. Desonta Bradford also chipped in 10 first half points for the Buccaneers and by the time the first 20 minutes were up, ETSU held a 39-27 advantage.
Xavier fans were optimistic for a hot second half start but were greeted with sub-10 percent shooting on the first 11 shots of the half. Bradford stayed hot and, with 14:30 left on the clock, Xavier found themselves trailing by 22 points. However, Chris Mack switched to a 1-3-1 zone and this would prove to change the tide. Assuming they had the luxury of time, ETSU allowed for their rhythm to be thrown off by a stingy defensive scheme and mild complacency that allowed for Bradford to get into foul trouble. Xavier began to chip away at the lead behind a Trevon Blueitt outburst grouped with some electric and-1's by both Kerem Kanter and Quentin Goodin. Xavier entered the bonus with 6 minutes left and two made free throws and then an end-to-end bucket by Naji Marshall cut the deficit to 59-51 and Cintas was brought back to life in full force. However, ETSU and coach Steve Forbes refused to go down easy and brought Bradford back in with 3 fouls. He brought instant energy and rejuvenated the Buccaneers offense. Unfortunately for Bradford, he was dueling alone against the combination of Kaiser Gates, Quentin Goodin, and Naji Marshall. Kerem Kanter would hit a 3 to tie it at 66 and then the ball was given to Trevon Bluiett and, per usual, he delivered. With a beautiful fader to the left wing, Bluiett put the Muskies up 68-66 for good.
Trevon Bluiett had an off shooting night at 32 percent from the field but no one would notice. His game winning shot personifies everything he means to this team and shows his value no matter how small or large the rim looks to him on any given night. "He's a baller" said Naji Marshall of Bluiett. A baller he is, and a clutch time performer is what he was made to be.
Kerem Kanter continues to show that he belongs in the rotation. He had 9 points and always seemed to produce when needed, especially with the game tying three he hit after subbing in for an injured Kaiser Gates.
JP Macura and Kaiser Gates both sustained undisclosed injuries. Macura missed a majority of the second half and Gates seemed to have just taken a hard fall in the last few minutes of the game. Seeing as both of these players are key to this team, this is a storyline to watch moving forward.
Freshmen Paul Scruggs and Elias Harden received no playing time for reasons no clearer than "not meeting the high standards of this program" according to Chris Mack. This is hopefully their only game out of the rotation but Mack elaborated no further.
This 22 point comeback is the largest comeback in the history of the Cintas Center. The previous high was a 19 point comeback in 2011 over Purdue.
This game was yet another test of meddle for this ball club. Ultimately, upperclassman performance guided the way to victory as well as some significant underclassman performances from Marshall and Goodin. Hopefully the rust will be worn off by Tuesday's game against Marshall.