By Andy Mac Williams, 2/15/2019

Xavier checked some important boxes in Wednesday's late night 64-61 overtime win over Creighton at Cintas. The Muskies ended the 6 game losing streak. X delivered hustling consistent defense and Naji Marshall stepped up as the "GO TO" closer late in regulation and in the overtime. The record looks better(12-13 overall-10-4 at Cintas-4-8 in the BIG EAST-tied for 8th with Creighton and Providence-just 2 games out of 3rd(St Johns and Seton Hall tied at 6-6). XU is in position to get back over .500 and maybe do some BIG EAST damage now if they can string together some wins and solve their road problems(1-6 away overall-1-4 in the league). We know about the Muskies' short comings(turnovers, lack of depth and inconsistent 3 point shooting). TEAM 97 is what it is in those areas although they've taken care of the ball well at times and go through good streaks from outside the arc. Depth can only be solved by an influx of talent which means waiting for TEAM 98 to assemble in late July prior to their European tour. Sticky defense is the ticket for TEAM 97. It travels well and does not depend on shooting luck or momentum.

Good "D" revolves around sheer effort and "want to" and attention to details in the Scouting Report. X brought the defense against a fast slick passing CU team and limited them to 0.86 points/possession(very stingy) holding them well below their PPG average(80) yielding 64 points in 45 minutes. Travis Steele loved it. His team posted 8 kills vs Creighton(a kill is 3 stops or empty possessions in a row). It's the most Muskie kills since the BE opener win at DePaul 74-65.

Travis relies on numbers to explain results. His research(credit Mario Mercurio for crunching the data) shows teams win 96% of the time when they record 7 or more kills in a game. That's impressive!! That's why consistently winning teams focus on defensive stops, rebounding and free throws. Dunks and fall away 3s and fancy ball handling are great and important and fun. Defense leads to consistent winning-home-road-neutral court-day-night-weekends and holidays!!

Naji Marshall played brilliantly(23 points-7 rebounds-5 assists). He dominated late in regulation leading XU back out of a 56-51 hole in the final 2 minutes. He made shots in OT(both Xavier FGs) for the 64-61 win. Marshall's 5 made three pointers are a career high. His stroke has smoothed out from the short corner where most tries are catch and shoot and open because of ball reversal. His wing threes are looking comfortable. The team huddle late when Xavier trailed was upbeat. Travis saw no panic-just determination and excitement.

Steele benched top scorer Paul Scruggs midway through the second half and in OT. Turnovers were the reason. As Travis said:"It was not Paul's night." Scruggs stayed engaged and upbeat on the bench. He did not pout. He is a team guy. Expect #1 to tighten up his ball handling-make and catch passes with two hands and make better decisions at Providence Saturday afternoon(2PM-FOX WXIX 19) when he will be a major positive factor.


Winning for Xavier at the Dunk in Providence has been a chore(1-4 in New BIG EAST trips). Combine that with XU's current 1-6 road record(1-4 in BIG EAST away games) and you see why PC is favored by 5 or more at their place. The Friars knocked off the Muskies 64-62 at Cintas 3 weeks ago. X trailed by 10 62-52 with 3 minutes left then stormed back missing 3 chances to tie or win in the final 20 seconds. Steele was livid after the loss-sighting one stat-18 turnovers-as the killer.

Naji Marshall was limited by foul trouble. X gave up 14 offensive rebounds. BIG wing Isaiah Jackson destroyed X off the PC bench(13 points). PC is 14-11 overall-9-4 at the Dunk-4-8 in the BIG EAST. Coach Ed Cooley has a young roster. He starts two Frosh guards David Duke and AJ Reeves who did not play at Cintas and is getting stronger now after a foot injury. Reeves is the 3 point threat PC needs to stretch defenses.

Cooley is crafty and has taken PC to 5 straight NCAAS. His MO is finishing strong and winning BIG in February and through the BIG EAST Tournament in March. Soph BIG Nate Watson is taking over in the post. Junior Kalif Young backs him up. Junior forward Alpha Diallo(6-7 17PPG-8 rebounds) is all league and all court. Cooley is using more experience lately(5th year transfer Jackson has started the last 2 games).

Lefty tweener Drew Edwards(6-4 Junior) has the coach's trust and is now a top sub. There's guard depth with Maki Ashton Langford and Malik White. PC does not shoot threes or FTs well, but they hammer teams on the offensive glass and run that tight low 4 inside flex offense to maximize their size and bulk.

The Friars will press and be aggressive trapping in the half court. Can Xavier bottle up what worked at home in the win over Creighton and uncork it at PC Saturday? Sure-if they bring that tough defense-rebound with PC-get to the foul line and take reasonable care of the basketball. All 4 of the Muskie Core 4 have to play decently for road success, Xavier has 6 games left before NYC and MSG and the BIG EAST Tournament. 4 are road games(PC, Seton Hall, St Johns, Butler) .

There are just 2 more at Cintas(Villanova and St Johns). With some wins, the Muskies can climb up the jam packed BIG EAST Standings and get their NCAA NET into respectable territory. BIG ORDER!! Defense is the answer plus some shooting luck!! Should be FUN!!

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