By Joe Clark, Sports Editor
The Xavier Musketeers lost their first game of the season on Wednesday night, falling 82-70 to the Iowa State Cyclones. Izaiah Brockington had 30 points for the Cyclones, while Paul Scruggs struggled, shooting 1-14.
Xavier got off to a slow start, missing their first five field goals and turning the ball over twice before a made three by senior guard Paul Scruggs. After Iowa State’s senior guard Gabe Kalscheur finished a breakaway layup off a Xavier turnover, Xavier Head Coach Travis Steele took a timeout with the Musketeers trailing 10-3. Xavier trailed 17-7 with 12:36 left in the first half after two made free throws by Kalscheur. The Musketeers couldn’t get anything going offensively, shooting 3-12 in the first eight-plus minutes.
Xavier’s offense picked it up in the next four minutes, but they couldn’t make a significant dent in the Iowa State lead thanks to back-to-back threes by freshman guard Tyrese Hunter, who started out 3-3 from the perimeter. Both of Hunter’s threes were answered by Xavier buckets, and the Musketeers trailed 27-20 with eight minutes left in the first half. After the 3-12 start, Xavier went 11-17 and were shooting 48% and trailed 33-32 with 3:30 left in the first half after briefly taking the lead with 4:32 to go at 30-29 to cap off a 23-12 Xavier run.
The Musketeers went into the half leading 39-38 behind 11 points from junior center Jack Nunge (who finished with a collegiate-high 24 points) and eight points and seven rebounds from sophomore forward Colby Jones. Hunter had 11 for Iowa State, while Penn State transfer Izaiah Brockington chipped in seven points and three rebounds for the Cyclones.
Iowa State came out of the half on a 9-0 run, and the Cyclones took a 47-39 lead with 17:36 left in the game. Brockington made back-to-back layups and then Kalscheur hit a three from the right corner before Hunter got a steal and finished with a slam. Iowa State took a ten-point lead at 53-43 but Nunge hit a three from the right wing to cut the lead to seven. Xavier couldn’t keep the momentum though, and Iowa State grew the lead to 14 with 12:31 left in the second half at 62-48. Xavier clawed back and cut its deficit to six after a Nunge layup with 9:48 to go and then the Musketeers got the deficit down to five after a pair of free throws by Jerome Hunter with 7:51 remaining.
Iowa State grew the lead back to nine after Brockington hit a jumper for his 23rd and 24th points of the night. A three by Iowa State to extend the lead to 12 with just over five minutes to go was basically all she wrote for the Musketeers, and the Musketeers lost their first game of the season 82-70.
The loss was a major step back from the defensive improvements Xavier had been making in recent games. It was also the first game of the season where the Musketeers were a member of the AP Poll, checking in at No. 25.
“Our group had been really mature lately. We played a really good Norfolk State on Sunday and I thought our guys had a great two days of practice leading up,” Steele said. “The number by AP means absolutely nothing. You have to have a chip on your shoulder, that’s who Xavier is and who it’s always been and we have to continue to be every single night,” he continued. “You have to play to your identity every single night.”
“It doesn’t matter if you’re known as a hard playing team or tough team. You have to prove it the whole 40 minutes or it means nothing,” Steele said.
The loss was also Xavier’s first game away from Cintas Center this season. Steele didn’t think that played a factor in the loss.
“We just need to play better. This is the first time I don’t think we played towards our identity this year,” he said. “Iowa State was the harder playing team. They were the more physical team. They were the tougher team tonight and that’s why they won the game.”
Nunge talked about the importance of Xavier being ready to play in practice. “It starts with practice,” he said. “We have to come in every day and take advantage of what we have. Bring the energy and be ready to play on Friday.”
Xavier will play on Friday at 7 p.m. against Virginia Tech, who lost 69-61 to Memphis.