Paul Scruggs led the way with 24 points, while Nate Johnson hit four threes
By Joe Clark, sports editor
After being on pause due to COVID-19, for the first time in 20 days, Xavier men’s basketball played, taking on Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
The Musketeers started fast and never looked back, beating the Bulldogs 68-55 to improve to 11-2, and most importantly, become eligible for the NCAA Tournament with 13 games played.
“Our guys were ready to play,” Xavier Head Coach Travis Steele said after the win. “I thought we had a couple really good days of practice leading up to Butler. Our guys were really, really locked in,” Steele continued.
Senior Paul Scruggs, playing in his hometown of Indianapolis, led Xavier with 24 points, 11 of them coming in the first eight minutes.
“Being back home is always special, and then also to get a road win at home in front of your family, that’s just amazing,” Scruggs said.
“I thought Paul played like a first team All-Conference player tonight. He was the best player on the floor and it wasn’t even close,” Steele said.
With freshman Colby Jones out due to COVID-19 protocols, junior Adam Kunkel slid into the starting lineup and had one of his best games of the season, putting up 15 points and knocking down three three-pointers.
Graduate transfer Nate Johnson (14 points) knocked down two of his four threes early to help the Musketeers race out to a 29-14 lead with just over eight minutes to go in the first half.
Xavier led by 12 at the half and extended their lead to 20 by racing out on a 10-2 run to start the second half, which was highlighted by threes from both Kunkel and Johnson.
Butler then clawed back in, going on a 13-0 run to cut the Xavier lead to seven points at 47-40. Butler eventually got the lead down to four, but Scruggs took over. He scored five straight points and extended the Musketeer’s lead to nine.
Xavier ended the game on a 9-2 run to take home the 68-55 win and improve to 4-2 in the Big East.
Defensively, the Musketeers held Butler to 34% shooting and just 20% from three point range. Xavier held Jair Bolden, Butler’s best shooter, to just 2-9 from beyond the arc as the Bulldogs only made five of their 25 attempted threes.
“I thought Nate Johnson did a tremendous job of chasing [Bolden] around. He was tremendous, but I also thought Zach Freemantle, Jason Carter, Bryan Griffin, even C.J. Wilcher did a great job helping Nate,” Steele said.
On Monday, Xavier got hit with more unfortunate news concerning a positive COVID-19 test from a member of Xavier’s tier-one personnel.
Wednesday’s game against DePaul was postponed, and then Sunday’s game against Villanova was also postponed due to contact tracing and further positive tests. This current pause is Xavier’s third this season.
Xavier’s next scheduled game is on Feb. 11 at home against DePaul, but given two additional positive tests from tier-one personnel during Tuesday’s testing, that game is not guaranteed to be played as scheduled.