X Hangs Tough Against Marquette Pressure in BIG EAST Opener
By Andy Mac Williams, 12/19/2021

Xavier survived a slow start (down 9 points midway through the 1st half)and some sketchy freer throw shooting(21-35-60%) to post aa 80-71 win over Marquette in the BIG EAST Opener Saturday. MU began well w/ their veteran starting 5 on the floor. They drove it well against the pack line defense and found open 3 point shooters leading 22-14 at the 2nd media time out. Travis Steele was not pleased" "Marquette dictated tempo and played harder in that 1st half. 2nd half we dominated around the rim and attacked off the dribble. I'm proud of our guys. Defense and rebounding travel and give us a chance when we're not shooting well."

Muskies powered a 17-8 run w/ a soft press back to a half court zone and Dwon Odom took over-driving hard to the rim repeatedly(5-5 FG 10 1st half points). X grabbed a 31-30 lead w/ just over 4 mins until the half and led at the break 38-36.

MU tossed in 6 made "3s"-well above their norm plus glue guy PG Tyler Kolek had foul trouble. X scraped by w/ a slight rebounding edge(21-19) and missed 6 FTs. Turnovers were OK just 6 vs Shaka Smart's Havoc defense. My thinking going in was weather the first half and let XU's depth and experience and size wear down MU.

Smart's teams always play hard. This was the conference opener. Everyone is 0-0 and full of expectations. Xavier quickly grew the lead to 50-40 just over 4 minutes into half#2. Colby Jones attacked the basket. X drew a ton of fouls.

PG Kolek went to the bench w/ foul #4. But Xavier missed FTs including 2 front ends of 1 and 1s and Marquette hung around. X ran the lead out to 70-62(4:37 left) and MU reeled them in(70-69 w/ 3:03 to go). Jerome Hunter bricked two FTs. Greg Elliott then missed a decent "3" look for MU.

Colby Jones ripped off a key rebound in traffic and Muskies took over w/ a series of game icing plays at both ends of the court. Jones made a short floater in the lane on a nifty short pass from Nate Johnson(X up 72-69).

Travis went to his game closing 4 small line-up(Odom-Scruggs-Johnson-Jones and Jack Nunge). Johnson drove right outside the arc and drew 2 defenders. He hit Nunge w/ a look away pass for an uncontested dunk(74-69 XU). Odom drew a crowd and a foul and canned two FTs(76-69). Odom drove hard to the paint-jump stopped on two feet and zipped a pass to Nate Johnson alone in the deep right corner. Bang-3 pointer(79-71 Xavier). Ball game OVER!! Odom and Johnson were unstoppable(19 and 17 points).

Travis on Odom:

"When they play off Dwon(not respecting his jump shot), they actually are doing him a favor. He gets more of a head start driving down hill. If he sees any light-any space, he's going to take it. He's such a strong finisher. Let him inside that charge arc and he's just devastating."

Shaka Smart praised Dwon:

"Odom was a huge difference maker. We just made too many mistakes to beat a team like Xavier on their home floor."

X just pulled away late-padding their rebound margin to +6-only turning the ball over 8 times(3 below their goal of 11/game). 3 pointers were so-so(5-18). 35 FT attempts is the BIG DECIDING Number.

Size does matter. Jack Nunge posted another double-double(13 points-12 rebounds). Zach Freemantle w/ 3 assists. Colby Jones dominated the ball in key stretches(11 points-8 rebounds-team best +14). In early returns Xavier is tied for BIG EAST lead at 1-0 w/ Creighton and Providence. CU buried Villanova 79-59 Friday in Omaha. PC jumped UConn 57-53 in Hart ford.

Muskies play Villanova in Philadelphia Tuesday(7 PM-FS1). X looking to avoid what Chris Mack labeled "Our annual Philadelphia Ass Kicking." Muskies 0-7 vs Villanova in Philly since joining BIG EAST in 2013-14 season. The teams did not play last season because of COVD cancellations. Much more on X at Villanova starting Monday.

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