No. 19 Xavier looks to build on a big late-season Big East Conference win when it hosts Butler on Saturday night for Senior Day in Cincinnati.
The Musketeers (22-8, 14-5) are coming off a 94-89 win at No. 20 Providence on Wednesday, handing the Friars their first home loss of the season. With the win, Xavier locked up the No. 2 seed in the Big East tournament.
Not surprisingly, Xavier was led by its two most consistent stars this season in Souley Boum and Colby Jones. Both posted career highs in points and helped stave off a furious Providence rally from a 22-point first-half deficit.
Boum led all scorers with 33 points while Jones added 29.
“You add them up, they’re 21 of 30 from the field, 7 of 12 from 3, 13 of 14 from the foul line,” Xavier coach Sean Miller said. “They had 16 rebounds and eight assists and 62 points. Both of them had their career highs on the same night. Souley Boum was as good as any guard in the country and Colby was right there with him.”
“Coach told us this is March,” Jones said. “Teams are gonna step up. Players are gonna step up. I feel like that’s what we did tonight in a big-time game.”
Xavier built a 40-18 lead in the first half before Providence rallied with a 15-3 run to make it 45-36 at the half. The Friars drew within 55-53 with just over 15 minutes left but the Musketeers never surrendered the lead.
The Musketeers will be looking to avenge Butler’s 69-67 win on Feb. 10 in Indianapolis. The game ended in controversial fashion when Butler was awarded the game-winning basket on a goaltending call against Jack Nunge, allowing Eric Hunter Jr.’s dunk attempt with 2.5 seconds remaining to count.
Center Manny Bates set a screen, freeing up Hunter’s drive to the basket. The goaltending call was unsuccessfully challenged by Xavier and Boum’s 3-pointer at the buzzer was off the mark.
“There was no doubt in my mind it would stand,” Bates said. “I just got the screen and wanted to see Eric go finish.”
Butler (14-16, 6-13) is coming off Tuesday’s 72-56 Senior Night home loss to No. 6 Marquette, which clinched the first regular season Big East title in program history.
Butler never fully recovered from an ice-cold offensive start. Simas Lukosius connected on a three with 17:22 left in the first half. But the Bulldogs were scoreless for nearly the next 10 minutes as Marquette built a 16-6 lead.
“It’s been like this all year,” Butler coach Thad Matta said. “We had a wide-open 3 in the corner we miss it, they bank in a 3. It’s been one after another like that all year. And unfortunately, we really tied our defense to our offense when the shots weren’t falling, you can’t do that.”
For Butler, Manny Bates returned Tuesday after missing two games with an injured shoulder.
Xavier’s Zach Freemantle missed his eighth straight game Wednesday in Providence with an injured left foot.
Xavier has managed to go 5-3 without Freemantle, including wins in three of its last four.
–Field Level Media