Xavier Knocks Off Bearcats in "the hardest two hours of their lives"
Chris Mack greeted a large group of Xavier students this morning outside of the Cintas Center after they had spent the night camping out in anticipation of the 2017 Crosstown Shootout. He had one request: make the game the hardest two hours of the visiting Cincinnati Bearcats' lives. The Muskies in the stands didn't disappoint and neither did the Muskies on the court. Behind Trevon Blueitt's 28 points and a record breaking crowd that was 10,817 strong, Xavier defended home court with a dominant 89-76 win.
The first half saw a team and fanbase on fire. Cincinnati was unable to convert a field goal in the first 5 minutes as Xavier opened up a 21-5 lead behind a balanced scoring attack. The script was flipped from last year as Xavier dominated the paint and limited second chance opportunities for the Bearcats.
This dominant paint presence was consistently maintained as Kerem Kanter had 10 first half points, Tyrique Jones muscled his way into the chest of anyone who tried to guard him, and Sean O'Mara was efficient with his minutes. Cane Broone and Gary Clark were great for the Bearcats as they did what they could to keep it close.
However, momentum was never in their favor and when it looked like Cincinnati might put something together, a technical foul on Head Coach Mick Cronin stunted it. Despite the 43-30 lead at the half, Coach Mack described the Bearcats as "a never die team" and turned his attention to the final 20 minutes.
Trevon Bluiett went superhuman to open the second half with an and-1 and a a three pointer right off the bat. Coach Mack obviously made adjustments at half as well because a press that bothered the Muskies in the first half became a benefit for Xavier in the second.
Quentin Goodin punished the press with an attack-mode mentality that allowed X to open up 55-33 lead by the 15 minute mark. The Muskies were put into the bonus at 11 minutes left and Kerem Kanter kept his first half fire and pushed the lead to 68-45 with under 10 to play. Cincinnati showed that "never die" mentality though as Jarron Cumberland caught fire and spurred a 12-2 run for the Bearcats that cut the lead from 23 to 13. Xavier attempted to burn clock but this harmed them as it threw them out of rhythm and allowed for Cincinnati to hang around in a ugly segment of the game. Kaiser Gates grew tired of the dull play and brought energy with a huge block and offensive rebound putback with under 5 to play. This, along with timely buckets and made free throws, put the game out of reach despite a Jacob Evans garbage time barrage of buckets.
Some other notes: JP Macura owns a ton of real estate in Mick Cronin's head. They were separated post game after words were exchanged between the two that were less than friendly. Rarely do you find a player as fiery and polarizing as JP and he is a Xavier legend.
Trevon Bluiett is one of the smartest and smooth basketball players in the nation. No one makes the most out of their athletic ability and skill set more than him and it is a joy to watch. Tyrique Jones was in and out of the game with an apparent knee injury in the second half. That is a story to watch as the season moves forward.
The win marked Xavier's second straight top 25 win and both were by 10+ points. This is also the 5th sell out in as many home games for the Muskies.
This will prove to be one of the best weeks on Xavier's resume come March. But, at this point, the Baylor game is long forgotten. This week has culminated with another Crosstown Shootout win and that is what matters most to this team and this fanbase. It's a great week to be a Muskie and it's always a great day to hand Cincinnati a "L."