No. 16 Xavier Outlast No. 17 Providence at Cintas in OT
By Andy Mac Williams, 2/1/2023

No. 16 Xavier adjusted and soldiered on without injured PF Zach Freemantle (foot injury-out 4 weeks)(top scorer and rebounder in BE games at 18 and 9) and survived 85-83 in OT at Cintas versus tough banging No. 17 Providence Wednesday. Muskies hold onto 1st place in BIG EAST-still tied with Marquette at 10-2. MU rallied late to best Villanova in Milwaukee 73-64 w/ PG Tyler Kolek dropping 20 points. PC slips to third place (9-3) with the loss in Cincy.

XU started Jerome Hunter in Zach's spot and he delivered BIG TIME-playing a career high 36 minutes-scoring 9 with 8 rebounds (7 offensive) and locking down PC scoring leader Bryce Hopkins (20PPG in BE). Hopkins managed just 10 on 3-14 FG w/ no "3s". Hunter drew 8 fouls w/ his junkyard dog tenacity around the rim.

Sean Miller liked what he saw:

"Seven offensive rebounds against that team-terrific. He guarded Hopkins well. His toughness and energy inspired us. He's an example I can use to show other players down the line how to play."

Jerome drew a foul w/ 3:14 left in OT and the game tied at 78-78. He cramped up and PC coach Ed Cooley picked Des Claude to shoot. He knocked both down for an 80-78 lead. Cooley knows Sean Miller well and he kept his sense of humor-yelling down the sideline "Let Miller shoot them." Sean was a 90% FT dead eye at Pitt. Des helped fill the Freemantle hole with 7 points-5 boards 2 assists and 0 turnovers and those pressure FTs.

X fleshed the OT lead to 5 at 84-79 with 57 seconds left on two crazy Souley Boum drives off the wing-culminated by two acrobatic scoop lay-ups. Boum was GREAT (20 points-9 assists-1 turnover). Muskies took excellent care of the rock (just 5 total turns) versus all sorts of PC presses and morphing half court defenses.

Sandwiched between Boum's buckets was the XU defensive stop of the game. Colby Jones marked Hopkins with Hunter out. Hopkins is a bull off the bounce. Colby mirrored him all the way inside-avoided contact and forced a wild shot. Jack Nunge grabbed his 14th rebound to go with 23 points.

Colby helped win tight home games earlier vs Seton Hall (Kadary Richmond) and Creighton(Baylor Schiermann) with similar must stops. Jones' driving game was impressive getting to the rim multiple times in heavy traffic for lay-ups and paint scores(20 points on 9 of 16 FGs).

Providence had forced OT at 76-76 when Muskie killer Jared Bynum banked in a tying "3" w/ 38 ticks left. Bynum's corner "3" off an inbounds play w/ 2.9 remaining rimmed out w/ XU up just 2. Thus 85-83 Muskies the Final.

Xavier bolted out of the gate building a 14 point lead at 33-19 w/ 7:31 left 1st half. X owned the glass and knocked down a ton of shots. PC seemed stunned early. They started changing "DS" and pressing. Sniper Noah Locke popped off ball screens and drained "3s"(6-7 22 points). X settled for quick jumpers. PC fed post horse Ed Croswell (21 points). Bynum canned a buzzer beater "3" and PC trailed just 39-35 at the break.

X began 2nd half with low energy and Friars quickly grabbed the lead. The battle was joined. Baskets and bumps were traded leading to 76-76 after 40 minutes then the dramatic overtime.

Miller sums up a gratifying evening:

"I've never been more satisfied' elated and proud of my team and staff than this night. It wasn't an easy task. Coming back from Omaha(Creighton) after a less than great performance (84-67 loss) Saturday-then losing an integral piece like Zach. Everybody gets a game ball."

An MVP is hard to pick for sure. Jack Nunge played HUGE post minutes(39) with Zach out(23 points-14 rebounds-3 assists-2 blocks). PC coach Cooley surely wanted to coax Jack into foul trouble running everybody at him. Nunge took just one foul.

XU struggled at FT line(13-23) maybe a function of fatigue and energy expended on defense and on the glass. Hunter is 75% FT and shot 3-8. Colby struggled (1-4). Their effort cancelled out the FT misses.

XU is now 18-5 overall, 10-2 BIG EAST, 12-1 at Cintas (only loss by 2 to Indiana back in November). PC has schooled XU in close BIG EAST games since 2014 w/ Cooley coaching. Muskies were 1-5 vs Friars in games decided by 5 points or less or in OT w/ 3 OT defeats in that batch of games. Make that 2-5!!

Jared Bynum had beaten XU with buzzer "3" at Cintas last Feb and poured in 27 at PC in a 3 OT heartbreaker also last Feb. Bynum's banked in "3" to force OT Wednesday pushed his good luck over the edge. It's poetic justice he rimmed out in OT.

XU is home again Saturday vs St Johns (5PM-BIG FOX). The Johnnies lost Wednesday 84-72 to Seton Hall in Queens-blowing a 13 point 1st half lead. St. Johns is 14-9, 4-8 BE. Seton Hall is rolling(14-9, 7-5 BE after a 0-3 league start).

BIG EAST Standings: XU and Marquette (10-2), PC (9-3), Creighton (8-3), Seton Hall (7-5), UConn (6-6), Villanova (4-7), St Johns (4-8), Butler and DePaul (3-9), Georgetown ( 1-11).

Andy Mac picked XU 74-72 over PC in the Scout-not planning on OT. At least I got the right team winning and the correct margin of victory. HUGE WIN considering the opponent and the quick line-up reset. I said "Barn Burner and that's what we got!!!

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