Photo courtesy of Desmond Fischer
Sunday afternoon saw a matchup between two very familiar foes –– Xavier and Butler. The two teams have had plenty of meetings with each other dating back to when both were members of the Atlantic 10 Conference.
A second-half comeback ignited by sophomore guard Paul Scruggs’ 23-point outburst vaulted Xavier to its second consecutive win at home as the Musketeers captured their third Big East victory. Scruggs’ offensive performance was complemented by a team-high eight rebounds and six assists.
Xavier trailed for nearly the entirety of the game, but a boisterous and encouraging Cintas Center crowd willed the Musketeers back from a 10-point hole.
“I was really proud of our guys’ fight,” head coach Travis Steele said. “It starts with the belief. I thought our guys had that.”
A two-minute plus scoring drought and three turnovers gave way to an 8-0 Xavier run fueled by Scruggs. The scoring run drew the Musketeers within a basket of the lead with less than three minutes to go in the game.
After an and-one made by Butler’s top scorer Kamar Baldwin, graduate senior Kyle Castlin drained a three-point shot to tie the game up at 69 points apiece.
“Big time KC,” Scruggs said of Castlin. “He was just playing with confidence.”
A rebound off the ensuing Butler possession allowed Xavier to control the ball with the chance to hold for the last shot. Sophomore forward Naji Marshall drove to his left and drew a foul, which he converted the back half of.
Xavier guarded Baldwin tightly and forced him to make a heavily-contested shot that missed, sealing the victory for the Musketeers at the buzzer.
The Bulldogs utilized a zone defense, which Xavier counteracted with a stronger outside presence during the second half. Scruggs was the main contributor from three-point range going 5 of 8 from beyond the arc throughout the game.
The Musketeers benefitted from the advantage of being in the bonus for the majority of the second half. Xavier successfully made 14 of 18 free throws
“I think getting to the free throw line needs to be another part of our identity,” Steele said. “I thought our offense was much more effective in the second half against their zone where we could kind of ball screen their middle guy at the top and really turn the corner, drive, get close outs and get downhill. I thought that made a big difference.”
Scruggs, along with Marshall (14 points) and Castlin (12 points), registered double-digit point totals.
The Big East remains to be one of the toughest conferences to compete in, and the Musketeers proved that on Sunday afternoon as they grinded out an important home win against Butler, 70-69.
By: Luke Feliciano | Sports Editor