CINCINNATI (AP)Colby Jones scored 20 points and Adam Kunkel had 18 and No. 19 Xavier avenged an earlier loss to Butler with a 78-66 victory Saturday.
Xavier (23-8, 15-5 Big East) played its ninth straight game without leading rebounder and second-leading scorer Zach Freemantle, who’s out with an injured foot. The Musketeers were also without guards KyKy Tandy and Kam Craft.
“When we really needed some strong plays on offense and defense, the two players that delivered were Adam and Colby,” Musketeers coach Sean Miller said.
Jayden Taylor scored 16 points and Chuck Harris had 13 for Butler (14-17, 6-14).
“We were kind of disheveled tonight, especially offensively,” Bulldogs coach Thad Matta said. “A lot of it had to do with Manny Bates not being out there. (Xavier) get you in so many ways. You take one thing away, they make the adjustment and get you there.”
The Musketeers lost to Butler 69-67 on Feb. 10 in a game that ended in controversy when Jack Nunge blocked Eric Hunter Jr.’s winning dunk but was called for goaltending. Xavier scored just 21 first-half points during their worst shooting half of the season.
On Saturday, it was Butler’s turn to start cold.
The Bulldogs opened 4 for 17 and were 1 for 7 from 3-point range in the half.
Butler roared back in the second half, outscoring the Musketeers 23-11 after halftime.
Jalen Thomas’ 3-pointer and Taylor’s steal and dunk capped a 7-0 run giving Butler its first lead of the game, 50-48 with 11:50 left.
It was another slow start to the second half for the Musketeers.
“Coach Miller has been telling us, first four minutes of the second half coming out slow has been a big emphasis,” Jones said. “It’s tournament time, so it’s win and go home.”
But the fouls started to mount for the Bulldogs, and the Musketeers responded with a 21-6 run to regain control.
“To our credit, we repaired what was happening,” Miller said. “But we’ve seen the same movie too many times. It’s March. If it happens again, game’s over. It’s a concern.”
Thomas and Simas Lukosius each had four fouls for Butler by the 8:44 mark of the second half, and starting center Manny Bates didn’t play in the second half due to a shoulder injury.
Kunkel’s 3-pointer put Xavier ahead by 11 with 5:23 left.
Kunkel, a transfer from Belmont, was in tears as he was honored before the game as part of Senior Night festivities. He played two seasons for the Musketeers.
“I had to control my emotions,” Kunkel said. “I was really thankful to come to Xavier and play in front of this great fan base and have my family here. I was just trying to have great energy tonight.”
Butler: The Bulldogs are 11-0 this season when they’ve shot 50% or better, including the first meeting with Xavier. Despite a hot start to the second half Saturday, the Bulldogs shot 45% for the game.
Xavier: Freemantle is still expected to return for the postseason, but hadn’t returned to practice as of Friday. Miller said he should have a timeline for Freemantle’s return by early next week.
Butler: The Bulldogs will face St. John’s in the Big East Tournament on Wednesday.
Xavier: The Musketeers have clinched the No. 2 seed in the Big East tournament and have a first-round bye.
AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25