Xavier Holds Off Niagara in Season Opener
By Andy Mac Williams, 11/10/2021

Xavier holds off Niagara 63-60 at Cintas. Muskie defense was good enough per Travis Steele. I agree! Niagara shot just 39.6% FG. X booked 11 steals and produced a ton of deflections. 6 kills in a low possession game is OK. One Purple Eagles SR. Guard Marcus Hammond killed XU(25 points). He was "THE KNOWN" going in. #1 on the scouting report-veteran lefthanded guard who rejects ball screens i.e. uses ball screens as decoys. Lesson learned for the players-pay attention to detail and read the screens better!! Offensively, the Muskies struggled. Why? 17PPG (Zach Freemantle) is on crutches. Niagara coach Greg Paulus (a Dukie) switched defenses manically (2-3 zone morphing to 3-2-man to man-match-up and soft press).

Also Xavier fell in love with the "3"/ or settled for that shot. They pinged the ball around the perimeter and forgot to rip the zone off the dribble and/ or find an open man at FT line. XU's 1st 2 point FG came w/ 7:40 left before halftime. Steele wants to play "paint ball" w/ copious post touches. That did not happen much especially before halftime.

X seemed overhyped early(new players- first game in ages w/ a full house at Cintas). Shot selection wasn't great nor was patience. The guys wanted to please. The 1,000 plus student section seemed in rare mid-season even NCAA form though. Keep the faith, kids! Execution will be much better Friday(6:30 Tip) vs Kent State(Mid American Conference).

Niagara tossed bodies around a bit in half one. X netted just one offensive rebound and the boards were even(18 each) at the break(unacceptable). Things got a whole lot better early 2nd half after some aggressive coaching. X become the tougher team.

First 4 minute WAR of 2nd half-Muskies battled to a 34-23 lead on 5-0 run w/ 5 offensive rebounds. Not pretty but effective! As Travis says, the tougher team dictates the playing rules. X led by 13 w/ 13:55 left. I felt one more made FG might crack Niagara. That did not happen.

X never showed easy offensive spurtability. Niagara made a couple circus "3s" late in shot clocks-knocked down FTs and slowed the pace. Sr Guards are vital! Paul Scruggs took over late w/ X up just 54-50 and 2:50 to go. 2 steals-5 points-2 rebounds. Then Jerome Hunter drilled 4 pressure FTs in the final minute to ice the "W". Hunter won the first Junkyard Dog Medal for producing the most hustle plays(those critical FTs-9 rebounds-2 steals).

Dieonte Miles played his first major minutes ever.1st half Travis felt he was just dipping his toe in the water. 2nd half-Good progress-5 offensive rebounds-2 shot blocks-excellent pick and roll dunk-late shot clock drive and circus reverse lay-up finish. Final Miles' stat line(9 points-7 boards-4 for 5FGs). Paul Scruggs called Dieonte out in a huddle. "You're the fastest most athletic guy on the floor. Play like it." And Miles followed his captain's advice! Bright future and w/ Freemantle out until early December, that future is pretty much NOW.

Iowa transfer Jack Nunge will get better fast as he scrapes off the rust(still 7 points-4 rebounds in 20 minutes). Three turnovers are not his style (great hands). Game pace and contact demand PT to adjust to.

Scruggs played like a BIG EAST 1st Team PG (17 points-6 assists-3 steals-5 rebounds). Colby Jones had a good game(16 points-5rebounds-4 assists-3 steals). He drew 6 fouls! Nate Johnson was slowed by leg cramps.

Travis played just 8. Reserve guards Dwon Odom and Adam Kunkel struggled to get into the flow. Ben Stanley, Kyky Tandy and Cesare Edwards DNP-coaches' decision. Tandy put up shots-post game-recovering from bronchitis.

Overall, certainly not artistic on offense. Borderline Ugly. Maybe a "B" on defense w/ exception of Marcus Hammond (25 of their 60 points). Great shooting makes up for a litany of other sins and XU did not shoot it well! Lessons learned without absorbing a loss. X never trailed in the game.

It's Kent State's opener Friday(6:30 Tip-FS1). Muskies have two practices to clean things up AROUND BIG EAST: 8-0 on Opening Night. Villanova, UConn, St Johns, Creighton and Marquette all posted blow-out wins over teams in KenPom's 300+ range. Butler, PC and X all played better teams? and won.

Wednesday on FS1: Seton Hall vs Fairleigh Dickenson at 7 followed by Coppin State vs DePaul at 9. Butler Super Senior Guard Aaron Thompson is suspended for team rules violation. Villanova plays first BE high leverage game Friday vs UCLA (#2-AP) out West (11:30 ESPN2). G-town is the 11th and final BE team to open Saturday vs Dartmouth (Ivy League).

Gavitt Games next week. Xavier-Ohio State Thursday at Cintas. OSU scored a buzzer beater lay-up w .3 seconds left last night in Columbus to beat Akron 67-66. Buckeyes host Niagara on Friday and Bowling Green on Monday.

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