By Andy Mac Williams, 2/18/2019

Considering Xavier's past struggles at Providence, I wasn't too upset with the halftime score Saturday(PC 32 XU 26). The Muskies' sticky pesky half court defense carried over from the OT win vs Creighton. 9 Xavier turnovers led to some easy run-out Providence buckets, but X got back against their fast break pretty well. PC scored 8 points on 2nd and 3rd chances around the rim. That's their #1 talent(playing volley ball on the glass). PC mucked up the XU offensive flow(They are #2 defense in the BIG EAST). Xavier did get to the FT line, but made just 4 of 8. Tyrique Jones showed excellent energy banging with his physical twin Nate Watson and led by example. The game was winnable IMHO with continued solid "D" better guard play and some shooting luck.

SECOND HALF SURGE: PG Quentin Gooden handed the ball to PC right out of the gate in half #2. The bull shit buzzer must have gone off for Q. He reacted like a video game-stealing the ball back in a flash-attacking the rim and making a tough speed lay-up. The Muskies just exploded-embarking on a stifling 8-0 run over 2 minutes moving the score from 6 points down to 2 up. PC Coach Ed Cooley angrily called a time-out and changed all 5 players(shades of an NHL line change).

X blitzed the new guys and kept building the lead. Ball movement was rapid and confident. The Muskies powered to plus 13(49-36) just over 5 minutes into the second half(21 to 4 run). It was text book Skip Prosser style spurtability( the happy confluence of stingy one and done defense and ball sharing efficient offense). It was a thing of beauty!!

Xavier made dunks and lay-ups and open threes in bunches. PC could not keep up. Friar Coach Ed Cooley said he felt like the normally raucous Dunk became the Vatican the crowd just vanished as a factor. X won half #2 49-29 for a 20 point swing. The Final Xavier 75 Providence 61.

Tyrique Jones led by his effort(19 points-12 rebounds). Gooden looked like himself in command at the point(13 points-7 assists). Naji Marshall was the prime focus of the PC defense after back-to-back 23 and 22 point games. He picked his spots and scored 14 efficiently on 6-11 FG with 7 rebounds and 4 assists plus Naji was the main reason Friar star Alpha Dialo managed just 7 points on 2-10 shooting.

Zach Hankins chipped in nicely(13 points-6 boards in just 17 minutes plus active hands defensively and good interior passing with Tyrique). X executed the pick and roll game excellently using crisp bounce passes and angled entries on the move to the BIGS. It was Villanova-esque.

The bench played effectively (47 minutes-10 points-6 rebounds-no turnovers-few defensive lapses). PC is usually a BIG plus on the glass. XU outboarded them 37-24. No reason to trigger Razzi fireworks over a 2 game winning streak, but this is progress!!

Xavier claws back to .500 at 13-13. 5-8 in the BIG EAST ties them for 7th with DePaul ahead of PC and Creighton and 2 GB of St Johns and Seton Hall(both 7-6 and tied for 3rd. We'll gladly accept a 2 win week. Naji Marshall made the five man BIG EAST Honor Roll for his yeoman's efforts vs Creighton and PC.


Villanova(11-2) is a half game up on Marquette(10-2).As we mentioned St Johns and Seton Hall are 7-6 and tied for 3rd. Butler's 5th at 6-7 Georgetown is 6th at 5-7 then it's XU and DePaul at 5-8 with CU and PC at 4-9. NEW NCAA NETS: Marquette(19 Villanova(20) St Johns(46) Butler(49) SHU(60) CU(63) G-town(79) PC(85) Xavier(95) and DePaul(100).

The Muskies moved from 107 to 95 with their Quadrant 1 win at Providence. More XU upward mobility is baked into the remaining 5 games before NYC if the Muskies can just bottle up that defense and energy-make shots and keep wining. Wednesday night at Seton Hall(7PM-CBS SN) is a Quad 1 opportunity as is Sunday at Cintas vs Villanova(1:30 PM-CBS Channel 12).

There's a bye week then three more Quad 1 chances Feb 28th at St Johns-March 5th at Butler and March 9th at Cintas vs St Johns again. 4 wins out of 5 put the Muskies somewhere around the NCAA bubble(17-14 overall-9-9 BIG EAST-5 Quadrant 1 wins and a strong finish with 6 wins in their final 8 regular season games) maybe with more work needed at MSG in the BIG EAST Tournament?

St Johns and Seton Hall have the edge right now for BIG EAST NCAA bids 3 and 4 at 7-6 in the league. SHU is 16-9 with strong non-conference wins over Miami(Fla) Kentucky and Maryland. ST Johns is 19-7 with a weaker non-conference resume, but impressive BE victories over Marquette(twice) and Villanova (once 1-1).

X can be king maker-spoiler-bid stealer here with 3 games left total vs St Johns(2) and Seton Hall(1). It's a TOUGH ASK!! BUT It's DOABLE IMHO.

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