Newswire photo by Desmond Fischer | Through three games this year, junior forward Tyrique Jones and sophomores Paul Scruggs and Naji Marshall set career highs in points.
Through three games this season, Xavier is 2-1 on the year after wins against IUPUI and Evansville while falling to Wisconsin.
Xavier jumped out to an early 10-0 lead after the first five minutes of play, but the Musketeers allowed the IUPUI to inch back into the game on a 10-0 run near the end of the first half.
Graduate transfer forward Ryan Welage, however, helped vault the Musketeers to victory.
He proved capable of his sharpshooting abilities as advertised. The former San Jose State product exploded for a team-high 24 points against IUPUI.
Welage started to find his stroke with a quicker catch-and-shoot release.
In the first half, he shot just 1-5 from beyond the arc, but in the second half he found a rhythm and buried five three pointers. Welage had 21 points in the second half alone.
“My teammates got me great looks,” Welage said. “Once I hit one or two, they really started looking for me. Coach (Steele) drew up a couple of good plays as well that got me great looks. I think it was just about becoming more comfortable.”
Xavier found itself trailing in the early stages of the first half in a seesaw affair against Evansville. The game was knotted up six times and the advantage switched hands three times throughout the game.
Junior point guard Quentin Goodin took the floor for his first appearance this season after being held out of the IUPUI game because of injury.
His impact was immediate –– he found sophomore guard Paul Scruggs in the corner and picked up an assist as Scruggs buried the triple. Goodin was among the Big East Conference’s best in assists last season, and he has the ability to create offense at the helm of the offense.
The Musketeers started to gain separation from the Purple Aces thanks to the hot hand of Goodin, who helped Xavier garner a 9-0 run to go up by 12 points with just over eight minutes to go in the first half. He entered the game off the bench and tallied 14 points.
Evansville was able to stay in the game primarily because of their shooting from beyond the three-point line –– the Purple Aces set a record for most threes in a single game (17) against Xavier.
Despite the close outcome, one major factor that led to Xavier’s success was its control of the glass. The Musketeers owned the rebounding battle, 51 rebounds to 22, while collecting 19 offensive boards.
Junior forward Tyrique Jones and Scruggs ignited a 7-0 run with just over four minutes to go in the game.
Jones was dominant, matching a career high with 19 points while recording a personal-best 20 rebounds.
The rebounding total was the most by a Xavier player since 2001 when Xavier great David West grabbed 21 boards in a game. Scruggs had a career day, amassing a team-high 24 points.
“I thought Paul played really well on the offensive end,” Steele said. “I thought he made some shots, made some great plays (on) the pick-and-roll. He played a little bit slower (and) finished around the rim. Paul plays to win.”
In the end, Xavier outlasted a resilient Evansville squad, 91-85.
The Musketeers had the opportunity to win the marble match against Wisconsin after defeating the Badgers on the road last season. The two teams also met in the 2016 NCAA Tournament when Xavier fell in the Round of 32.
The Musketeers had a tall task in front of them having to face Preseason All-Big Ten forward Ethan Happ.
Xavier defended Happ fairly well in the first half, but he paced Wisconsin as he was the Badgers’ leading scorer finishing with 30 points. Happ also had 10 rebounds.
Despite being down by 11 at one point in the first half, the Musketeers managed to crawl back into the game –– trailing by just a score heading into the break.
The Badgers went on a 16-2 run in a three and a half minute time span to regain their double-digit lead. Meanwhile, the Musketeers couldn’t seem to get in sync on offense.
Xavier shot 45 percent from the field and struggled to connect from long range, shooting just 20 percent from behind the three-point line throughout the game.
However, sophomore forward Naji Marshall provided a bright spot in the Xavier offense. He led the team in points (24) and rebounds (12), notching his first double-double of the season.
“I thought Naji bounced back,” Steele said. “… He’s a tremendous player… I thought overall, he played a really nice game. He rebounded the ball, he attacked the rim. He’s one of the best drivers in the entire country.”
Xavier sliced the lead to single digits but was unable to mount a comeback. As a result, the Musketeers fell 77-68.
By: Luke Feliciano | Sports Editor