Big moments are born from big opportunities and playing in a high-stakes game, junior forward Naji Marshall stamped his mark at the Crosstown Shootout.
Marshall capped a career day against rival Cincinnati in a 73-66 victory on Saturday, which improved Xavier’s record to 9-1 on the season.
“I think this is the best rivalry in all of college basketball,” head coach Travis Steele said. “You remember every single moment from every game … This game’s all about toughness and all about togetherness, and I think we showed that tonight in a big, big way.”
The Musketeers played from behind in the early stages of the first half, but junior forward Naji Marshall stepped up to shoulder the load offensively.
Marshall, who has improved his range on jump shots, excelled from beyond the arc and swiftly took the reins. He netted four 3-pointers and matched his career high with 31 points.
Xavier played much more in sync and connected while reducing turnovers. The Musketeers shared the ball well and registered 17 total assists while scoring more than half their points in the paint.
“Naji’s a big time player,” Steele said. “He’s worked really hard for this moment. I believe in him. He was ready for it … He got into a really good rhythm early on in the game. He just kind of had that flow tonight. He’s always gotta play slow like that.”
Xavier struggled at times to stop Cincinnati guard Keith Williams, who lead the Bearcats with 15 points, but kept leading scorer Jarron Cumberland at bay. The senior, who was originally questionable for the game because of a hip ailment, was limited to just 4 of 14 shooting.
Freshman forward Zach Freemantle, who has already seen a good chunk of minutes in his rookie season as a Musketeer, was productive off the bench. He battled hard in the paint and found his stroke on short jumpers.
His development will be a vital part of Xavier’s lineup moving forward as Freemantle relieves starter Tyrique Jones at the five spot.
“Zach’s going to be really good,” Steele said. “You never know if the moment is going to be too big for a freshman or if they have that look in their eyes. Zach was locked in. We have to figure out how to play him and Tyrique together.”
The Musketeers have a weeklong reprieve from game action before traveling south to face Wake Forest next Saturday.
This year’s installment of the Crosstown Shootout marked a first – Travis Steele’s first win in the rivalry game as Xavier’s head coach.