X Gets Past Cleveland St. in NIT First Round
By Andy Mac Williams, 3/15/2022

Xavier TEAM 100 filed their dismay at missing the NCAA Tournament in the trash can and played hard focused basketball Tuesday night at Cintas surviving 72-68 vs an aggressive Cleveland State team and advancing to NIT 2nd Round coming up Sunday in Cincy(Time and TV TBA) against the winner of Iona at Florida to be played Wednesday(9 PM EDT on ESPN2).

Muskies started slowly against CSU trailing 12-6 8 minutes in. XU was harassed into a bevy of early turnovers and rushed shots. Travis Steele described CSU's style pre-game as handsy and disruptive. After the fact, he added "aggressive, like a school of parana, attacking,manic, driven. They play like St Johns on steroids. They ran and jumped and trapped and tried to keep his out of our offense. It worked early."

XU settled down and took an 18-16 lead w/ 7:32 left(1st half). X seemed set-up to build a lead after obtaining the FT bonus early. Muskies managed only 2 FTs though and needed a buzzer beater corner "3" from Adam Kunkel to grab a 29-28 halftime lead. X has struggled the past 6 weeks holding and extending leads. CSU roared out early 2nd half-turned X over and converted a bunch of offensive rebounds into buckets.

Vikings led by 7 w/ 15:30 to play. XU basically just said "Enough". A few 3 pointers helped(7-26). Muskies again got into the bonus early and this time kept attacking-putting pressure on the rim and the officials.

X banged in 15 of 21 FTs down the stretch to exorcise those 1-7 FT demons from the Butler OT loss in NYC. Xavier ratcheted up the defense late allowing CSU just 15 points over the final 7:34. X forced 17 turnovers and collected 16 steals and blocked 8 shots. Travis played just 5 at crunch time(Scruggs, Nate Johnson, Kunkel, Colby Jones and Zach Freemantle).

The 4 guard look outworked and outquicked a blue color CSU team. Freemantle played like himself(13 points-11 boards-4 blocks-2 steals-6 fouls drawn). He won the Junkyard Dog Award. Zach returned to form.

"I feel great. My problems have been all mental-not physical. My defense has not been good enough. My coaches and me hold me to a higher standard," said Freemantle.

Zach was most vocal when Steele asked if he wanted to play in NIT. We better play. I want to go to war. We can't end it w/ that crappy Butler game was Freemantle's response.

Paul Scruggs played his 150th Xavier game(all time record). He seemingly was targeted by CSU and he responded well at crunch time(12 points-5 rebounds-4 assists-6 steals-6 fouls drawn). Scruggs stickback bucket w/ 1:05 left gave XU a 70-65 lead. His steal and FTs iced the game.

Adam Kunkel was just excellent off the bench(14 points in 28 minutes-4 steals-3 assists-3 rebounds and an amazing +18 in a game Xavier won by just 4 points.

Jones was roughed up but just toughed it out w/ his typical stat sheet stuffing floor burn collecting effort(11 points-8 rebounds-6 assists). The sins of Butler were corrected re FT shooting and getting stops and salting away a postseason win.

Muskies get Wednesday off then start prep for Sunday's NIT 2nd Round game at Cintas vs Iona or Florida. XU is now 14-5 at home and 9-0 non-conference at Cintas. Let's go for 10-0 vs the Gators or Gaels-then maybe load up the bus and play the Flyers at UD Arena in Round 3??




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