X Knocks Out No. 24 UConn in Friday Night BIG EAST Battle
Andy Mac Williams,
It was hammer and tongs-blood and guts-effort and floor burns- a veritable BIG EAST Bashfest Friday night at Cintas and Xavier came out on the long end vs NET #17 UConn 74-68. Muskies put together a full 40 minute performance for the 1st time since their Jan. 7th 87-72 win at Butler. XU had trailed at the half in 9 straight games-not on this night. It wasn't easy. Early buckets were hard to come by for both teams. It was a bruising half court grind.
UConn took a 19-14 lead w/ 7:36 left before the half. X battled back even at 19. Muskies fought Huskies to a draw on the glass (UConn is #2 NCAA in offensive rebounding and +8/game overall). X ran patient offense and scored 2 by 2. Nate Johnson found his game w/ 10 1st half points and two "3s" after going 0-8 from deep the last 3 games. Nate was vital considering long range threat Adam Kunkel DNP because of illness.
UConn had the ball w/ 40 ticks left. X got a solid stop. Jack Nunge cleared a tough rebound. Nate sprinted to the top of the key on a broken play-rose up a drained a triple at the buzzer. X led 34-31!! Relief!! Muskies outboarded Huskies 19-15 in 1st half-swarmed their star inside Adamo Sanogo and worked him into foul trouble.
Jack Nunge supported Nate w/ 9 points. Colby Jones barreled all over the floor(8 points-4 assists). Nunger and Zach Freemantle combined for 9 rebounds. X turned it over just 4 times vs strong UConn pressure. 2nd half started w/ purpose. Paul Scruggs drove hard to the rim for three baskets and Freemantle scored on a stick back. X expanded their lead to 8 (42-34).
UConn lived by the "3" to stay close as XU strangled their inside game. Freemantle and Nunge scored heavily inside (12 and 22 points respecively w/ 9 rebounds each). Scruggs stuffed the stat sheet. This is his team and he refused to lose(9 points-3 rebounds-2 assists-3 blocked shots) and a ton of extra effort plays.
Colby was everywhere(8 points-5 rebounds-6 assists). Dwon Odom played tail off-stalking UConn PG R.J. Cole-scoring 8 on dynamic dribble drives-ball handling under pressure down the stretch w/ Colby and Scruggs to salt the game away vs full court Huskie pressure.
Nate Johnson bumped a knee w/ 3:20 left. Odom finished the game off. Nate is OK though. No major damage after a hard fall.
UConn lost its cool late. Coach Danny Hurley drew a technical foul (language) and X drained two FTs. Andre Jackson slammed the ball to the court after losing the rock out of bounds and X converted a 1 shot tech.
Muskies showed good poise nursing the lead late. FTs were not perfect. Thank goodness for the super bonus! UConn did cut it to 3 at 67-64 on an improbable "3" from 20% shooter Jackson, but a Scruggs blocked shot from behind and a Scruggs rebound saved the bacon. Nunge drilled two FTs and X kept UConn at arms' length-up 4 or more.
X won the toughness and rebounding wars and booked more shot blocks than #4 NCAA block team(7-4). HUGE WIN after that bummer 73-71 loss Wednesday at Seton Hall.
Xavier is now 17-7 overall, 7-6 BIG EAST-solo 6th in a log jam race-just behind 6-5 Creighton, 7-5 UConn and 8-5 Marquette. X posts its 5th NET Quad 1 win. They get a 6th Quad 1 soon (Creighton away) if Blue Jays handle Georgetown their next two games. Only a handful of D-1 teams own 6 Quad 1s. Maybe 4 have 7. Just Wisconsin is at 8.
Travis Steele on the win:
"An absolute war!! We had almost no prep time after traveling back from Seton Hall (3AM arrival Thursday). A 30 minute practice Thursday. We put the plastic rebound bubble up at shoot around today to underscore how vital box outs and rebounding were vs UConn. We sent all 5 to the glass and took good care of the ball. Nunge was phenomenal. Zach played great in the second half."
"A HUGE shout out to our student section (adorned in Orange Bengal T-shirts). They were ELECTRIC!!"
"Nate and I had a long positive video session. We just told him to have fun and lose himself in the game. take the pressure off and don't try to be perfect. If you miss a shot, go help the team in another area."
"One play stands out. Nate was left alone vs Sanogo (6-9,245) the best post player in our league down low. He just put a body on him and boxed him out."
"Danny Peters had the UConn scout. We pulled an all nighter after we rolled in at 3AM-watched all their games and just picked out a couple things to focus on like box outs and swarming Sanogo, It worked. I knew after that good 2nd half at Seton Hall that we would play well and we Did!!"
Xavier hosts run and gun St Johns next Wednesday at Cintas (6:30 PM-CBSSN) - then travels to UConn Saturday Feb 19(Noon-FOX).
Four BE games Saturday-Creighton at G-town(Noon-FS1) SH at Villanova (1 PM-FOX) Marquette at Butler (4 PM-FS1) and DePaul at PC (6:30-FS1). One Game Sunday-UConn at St Johns (Noon-FOX) at MSG.
Muskies right the ship w/ hardworking 74-68 win over UConn! GO BENGALS!!