No. 25 Muskies Grit Out Win Over VTech
By Andy Mac Williams, 11/27/2021

Late Night Friday in the wake of Muskies' gritty 59-58 win over ACC Virginia Tech in Brooklyn (NIT Tip-off Tournament). XU decimated by stomach flu. Three rotation players could not play (top rebounder Colby Jones, Starting Center Dieonte Miles and Forward Jerome Hunter). Zach Freemantle still shelved after foot surgery (although reportedly Zach did participate in Friday's midday shoot around). That left Travis Steele w/ just three healthy bench guys (Adam Kunkel, Cesare Edwards and Kyky Tandy). Kunkel DNP in Wednesday's loss to Iowa State (sick) and starter Paul Scruggs was fighting illness in both games. Muskies spent 3 days in NYC dealing w/ doctors and I.Vs and constant trips to the bathroom.

Travis Steele on the situation:

"We've fought through a lot of adversity in the last 48 hours. Tonight was an ugly game-not perfect. We'll take it though. VT will be in the NCAA Tournament. Our guys just fought. We played a lot of four guards. We haven't practiced that at all, but we had unique circumstances w/ our roster. Didn't know who would be available."

"We played slowly on purpose-bleeding the clock. Had to have energy for 40 minutes of defensive energy vs VT. We could not let them just run their offense. They're too good so we had to use high ball pressure. We got our defensive intensity back. We were tough on the ball-much effort and fight-a gutsy performance. Justyn Mutts is a monster inside (11 rebounds vs XU). Scruggs just battled him down low. Keve Aluma is All ACC. We put him in a Bee Hive in the post. Can't play him one on one."

Super Senior Nate Johnson played out of his mind (career-high 30 points (7 made "3s"-10-14 FGs) playing all 40 minutes. Nate nailed the winning "3" w/ 25 seconds left to put Xavier ahead 59-58. A spot-up 22 footer on a no look throw back pass from a driving Dwon Odom.

Steele on the play.

"Dwon just a great drive. He was 4-5 FG w/ 4 assists and played stellar defense. Nate is the best shooter in the country and it's not even close. He knocked down 7 "3s"."

VT had the last possession w/ 25 ticks left. They took it down to 6.8 seconds and called time-out. Travis took a look at Hokies' set then called his own T.O. Dwon Odom locked onto VT's best dribble driver Hunter Kattoor and made him take a hotly contested 14 footer on the move. (We told them to block out hard. Dwon made Hunter take a very tough shot. We wanted hard box outs, because most close games are won and lost on the glass w/ second and third tries at the basket. They did their job.")

Muskies led most of the game-up 8-35-27 at the break. Second half start was slow as X attempted to milk the shot clock. Xavier's 1st FG came 6 minutes into half #2 but that sticky defense held VT off. Muskies led 49-44(+5) w/ 7:36 to go, but pieced together a 9-0 run over 4 minutes to go ahead 53-49 w/ 3:40 left.

The TV announcers started to bury XU (They're fatigued-nice try w/ 4 regulars out etc) CYA-Let's crown the ACC team w/ a comeback win. Not so fast!! Odom scored on a back door slam from Jack Nunge. Nunge rained in a rainbow "3" as did Nate Johnson. Then the final minute and the win.

It's an NET Quad 1 win for Xavier(two already-VT and OSU) after just one all last season(Creighton at Cintas). Muskies improve to 5-1.

Other points of interest:

  • Jack Nunge grabbed a career high 14 rebounds. After a career high 24 points vs Iowa State, he better make the All Tournament Team. XU won the rebound battle and outshot VT 49% to 40%.
  • The depleted bench played 46 minutes. Frosh BIG Cesare Edwards threw his weight around against a veteran ACC front line. He may well become a rotation regular by BIG EAST time.
  • Scruggs led the ball pressure "D" and ruined VT PG Storm Murphy's evening plus Paul dished out 7 assists playing through the flu.
  • Kunkel came off his sick bed to play 16 minutes. Xavier's winning time line-up featured 4 guards-Scruggs-Johnson-Odom and Kunkel plus Jack Nunge.

    Ideally, the flu will run its course and 11 guys will be ready for Central Michigan this Wednesday at Cintas(6:30PM-FS1). Freemantle should be on the practice floor Monday. GREAT WIN under tough circumstances! Flu problems explain XU's flat performance Wednesday in NYC vs Iowa State. Nate Johnson better be BIG EAST Player of the Week!

    Crosstown Shootout now 15 days away. Saturday December 11th at Cintas. Here, kitty, kitty!!

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