By: Joe Clark, Sports Editor
Playing in front of over 900 fans and students for the first time all year, Xavier men’s basketball got off to a hot start, but couldn’t sustain it and fell 80-72 to the University of Connecticut (UConn) Huskies on Saturday.
Due to a COVID-19 pause, this was Xavier’s first game since their win at Butler on Jan. 30, and the Musketeers looked ready to be back on the floor as they jumped out to an 11-2 lead in the first half. In his first game back from injury, Akok Akok added five points for UConn, tying the score up at 17 apiece with 10:32 left in the half. A minute later, UConn took a 19-17 lead, and the Musketeers trailed from that point on.
“After that first four minute media timeout, we came in with a good lead, but we just got comfortable and lackadaisical after that, and I mean we just let them creep right back in it,” sophomore Zach Freemantle said. “You can’t get comfortable four minutes into the game…but we did, and they took advantage of it.”
Freemantle was a bright spot for the Musketeers, as the sophomore had 30 points and 15 rebounds, with 16 of those points coming in the first half when the Musketeers only scored 32 points against a tough UConn defense.
After an Isaiah Whaley three-pointer gave UConn a 49-40 lead, Xavier put up a 9-0 run where freshman Colby Jones made three free throws and had a big defensive steal.
The excitement in Cintas Center was short-lived though, as UConn had back-to-back three-point plays, giving them a 55-49 lead. Xavier cut the lead back down to four with 8:04 left to play, but a three from R.J. Cole (24 points, seven assists) gave UConn another staggering lead.
Xavier was down by 14 after a Tyrese Martin layup with 2:17 left to play, but a furious 13-2 run by the Musketeers brought the game within four points at 76-72. That was as close as Xavier would get, as UConn closed out the game at the free throw line with an 80-72 win.
UConn is the best offensive rebounding team in the Big East, and the Huskies showed that on Saturday with 12 offensive boards.
“They got us on the offensive glass,” Xavier Head Coach Travis Steele said. “We aren’t going to out-jump UConn. They’re longer, they’re more athletic. I don’t think we did a good enough job blocking out, creating a pocket to rebound the ball.”
Xavier is back in action on Tuesday as they take on St. John’s in Queens. St. John’s is 6-1 in their last seven games, but a win against the Red Storm would be a Quad One win for the Musketeers. With only one Quad One win so far, a win against the Red Storm would help bolster the Musketeers resume with Selection Sunday approaching in less than a month.