Musketeers Blast St. John's at Cintas
By Andy Mac Williams, 2/5/2023

Xavier validated Wednesday's 85-83 OT win over Providence, completed a 2-0 week and retained a share of the BIG EAST lead Saturday at Cintas with a resounding wire-to-wire 96-71 pounding of St Johns. Muskies sit 19-5 overall, 13-1 at home and 11-2 in BE. Marquette is 11-2 BE also MU beat Butler 60-52 Saturday afternoon in Milwaukee. XU never trailed St Johns-jetting to a 17-6 lead at the 1st media time-out. Muskies played add-on throughout the 1st half- ahead 49-30 at the half then resumed their butt wiping in half #2-extending the margin to 30 (69-39) with 14:10 to play.

Coach Sean Miller was pleased:

"After what happened at Creighton a week ago(84-67 loss) and then losing Zach Freemantle (foot injury) you never know which way things are going to go then we were coming off that emotional OT win over a very good PC team. I liked the way we were completely ready for the game-supercharged both offensively and defensively at both the start of the game and the start of the 2nd half. Maybe our best full 40 minutes of the season so far."

XU defended w/ a passion-limited STJ to 39% FG and grabbing 8 steals. BIG Joel Soriano(17PPG-12 Rebounds-leading NCAA w/ 18 double-doubles) had his worst game of the year( 6 points-8 boards). Xavier limited STJ to 0.91 points/possession-Muskies' stingiest defensive work of BE season so far.

X just flowed like Niagara Falls on offense-shooting 54% FG making 15 "3s"(season high) dishing out 26 assists on 32 FGM w/ just 11 turnovers thus hitting their TO goal for the game. The starters all played well. BIG Jack Nunge yoyoed from high post to low block scoring 23-making 4 of 5 "3s" and adding 6 assists. Jack potted 23 in the win over PC-plus he stayed out of foul trouble.

PF Jerome Hunter prospered again in his 2nd start filling in for Freemantle( 32 minutes-10 points on 4 of 7 FG-6 rebounds-4 assists and 3 steals). The BIGS found each other repeatedly. SF Colby Jones was awesomely efficient (19 points on 7-8 FG, 8 rebounds and 4 assists). Colby's 3 point stroke continues to impress. He's unselfish but knows when his own shot is the best one for XU on the floor.

Adam Kunkel came up large as usual(7 points-4 boards-4 assists). Kunkel was bowled over by former HS football beast Dylan Addae-Wusu in 2nd. STJ's #5 seemed angry and frustrated and also tried to bulldoze PG Souley Boum.

Kunkel took a nasty hit from the 235 pound former running back but Adam returned to the game. PG Boum was super again (17 points-3 assists-no turnovers 6-6 FTS plus his 3 point stroke returned w/ a vengeance (3-6). Souley's assist to turnover ratio in BIG EAST play is best in the conference(71 assists to 16 turnovers-about 4.5 to 1). That's a 6 sigma event to the good side for XU. Boum is no secret. BIG EAST teams throw the defensive book at him. The league's top on the ball defender Posh Alexander of STJ could not hem Souley in. Traps and pressure and body blocks did not work. Boum is just so slippery and crafty and elusive.

Sean Miller played his bench a lot( 58 total minutes) and the results were strong. Frosh G-Wing Des Claude's role continues to expand. He's playing PG, 2G and SF now. Des knocked down all 3 of his "3s"(11 points-3 rebounds-3 assists and tough blanketing "D" vs numerous Johnnies.

Frosh Wing Kam Craft got his 1st long run of PT vs BE team and stood out( 8 points-4 rebounds in 10 minutes. Craft is almost as automatic from "3" as Brad Redford and he's a rangy 6-6 plus he's a hustling all court player. The ball finds him and/or he finds the ball on a regular basis. Craft is much more than a 3 point catch and shoot sniper. He handles well and gets into the dirty inside areas to score around the bucket. This guy has immediate utility down the stretch. BIG Cesare Edwards expanded his time to 10 minutes vs 6 in PC game. He drew fouls(3-4 FT) and moved well as Nunge's relief. So far so good without Zach(2-0) but Miller wants the whole enchilada:

"Zach will return at some point before the BE Tournament. Our goal is to be a more complete team around him. Then he doesn't have to all of a sudden wave the magic wand after a month out and get 16 and 10. We have a confident group and there are a couple things happening right now that could solidify us."

Remember Zach played his best basketball late last season when he was totally healthy after the foot surgery. The last 4 NIT games vs 3 SEC teams and a veteran St Bonnies team, Zach was just excellent( 12.5PPG-6+ rebounds-20-32 FG for 63%) in 22 minutes/game. Production and efficiency to the max. XU does not win the NIT without him. They probably do not get to NYC.

I like Miller's vision for the stretch run. Muskies are 19-5 w/ 7 games left before BET in NYC. X is off until next Friday at Butler(7 PM-FS1). Then it's Marquette in Milwaukee on Wed. Feb 15 followed by DePaul at Cintas Saturday Feb 18. Let's just focus on the trip to Hinkle Friday.

One late BIG EAST result-Creighton hung on in Omaha to edge Villanova 66-61. Blue Jays made 4 late FTs to ice it. The Top of BE Standings has XU and Marquette at 11-2, Creighton and PC 9-3, Seton Hall 7-5 hosting DePaul Sunday(Noon-FS1) and UConn 7-6.

Villanova had a tough 0-3 week w/ losses to PC (home) and at Marquette and at Creighton. Nova now on NCAA life support at 4-8 BE, 10-13 overall.

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